OPINION | Not Just J&K, Even Congress Lost Its ‘Special Status’ in Opposition Within 48 Hours
The Gandhi family appears to be losing its grip on the party with the continuing delay in choosing a successor to Rahul Gandhi.
The party has been headless for more than two-and-a-half months. In the meantime though, the Congress Working Committee, the highest policy-making body of the party met twice -- once to finalise about Rajiv Gandhi’s 75th birth anniversary celebrations and on Tuesday about coming up with the party’ stand on the scrapping of provisions in Article 370 and Article 35A, and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.
There seems to be no hurry in choosing the next Congress president. Day by day, things are drifting with the party workers confused and the leaders having no clue about what the Gandhi family is thinking about the leadership. State-level leaders, particularly in poll-bound states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, are at their wits’ end on how to fight elections and win when the party has no leadership in the state.
Though Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, the just-concluded Parliament session proved that the Congress has lost the plot. Rahul Gandhi continues to be taking selective decisions, but did not play any active role in the House. Many expected him to speak on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bold move to scrap provisions of the controversial Article 370. Instead, he was seen sitting in the House in his seat in the second row, surfing his mobile phone. He took to Twitter to criticise Modi on Kashmir. His critics say that he speaks more outside Parliament than inside.
The just-concluded Parliament session also showed that the Gandhi family grip is loosening in both the Houses and as is its standing in the Opposition. The Congress MPs had no clue on many controversial issues, which were discussed in the House. The Congress failed to mobilise the opposition parties on important legislations, resulting in the government getting away with even difficult legislations like RTI amendments and Triple Talaq bill as well as scrapping special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
There was division in the opposition ranks, which the BJP utilised to the full extent and the Congress remained isolated in the House along with some smaller parties. No doubt Sonia Gandhi called a meeting of opposition leaders, but could not unite the opposition on issues.
Even within the party, murmurs are increasing with even senior leaders admitting that things were getting worse day by day. For instance, many MPs did not know what the party line was even on Article 370. When Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the scrapping of J&K special status with a fiery speech, there were others who wanted to support the measure.
Similarly in the Lok Sabha, party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury left the Gandhis red-faced while speaking on the Kashmir issue by asking, "If Indira Gandhi did the Shimla agreement and Vajpayee did the Lahore agreement, then how is Article 370 an internal issue?" while the party had an opposite view.
Even other younger leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia supported the government move. The younger leaders in the poll-bound states of Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, including Deependra Hooda and Milind Deora, openly supported the Kashmir bifurcation. Party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi admitted in TV discussions that the Modi government outfoxed the Congress party politically.
The Congress also lost two MPs during the session. The first was Amethi ‘raja’ Sanjay Sinh, who resigned to join the BJP; and the second was the party whip Bhubaneswar Kalita who quit on Monday, refusing to issue the whip, as he did not agree with the party stand.
If this is what is happening right under the nose of the Gandhi family in Delhi, one can imagine the state of affairs in the states. The party is facing a series of crises across key states — from the loss of Karnataka government to defections in Goa to intra-party turf wars and factionalism across state units. In Telangana, 12 Congress MLAs have merged with the TRS. Former Haryana chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hooda is planning a rally on his own. He is worried about his political survival in the state. Maharashtra Congress is in complete disarray. When Priyanka Gandhi sent her emissary to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, interceding on behalf of Navjot Singh Siddhu, Singh did not even give audience to the emissary. The senior leaders are quite upset at the way Priyanka Gandhi was critical of them in the May 25 CWC meeting.
Above all, there is a turf fight between the old guard and the young Turks who want to grab power. The old guard is against choosing a younger leader as the new party chief and would like to install its own Sonia Gandhi loyalist. The delay in choosing Rahul’s successor is also mainly because of this fight.
If all these are not indications of the family’s grip weakening on the party, what else could be?
(The author is a political analyst. Views are personal)