A buzz was created in political circles recently when senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal hosted a dinner at his residence where leaders from Opposition parties were invited and the state of the Congress was discussed with them. Following this, a virtual meet was called by party president Sonia Gandhi with Opposition leaders as a retort. And now as the latest mess in Punjab and Chhattisgarh has unfolded, a group of 23 senior Congress leaders has got yet another reason to bash the top leadership.
According to sources, the leaders present at the gathering which included Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari, incidentally, members of G-23, moaned the fact that the way situation is being handled in both Punjab and Chhattisgarh reflects the floundering top leadership.
One of the members, who was present, said, “Punjab was a mess which could have easily been avoided. A sitting Chief Minister cannot be humiliated like this on a daily basis. Just because you don’t like him does not mean that you can overlook the work done by him over the years."
In case of Chhattisgarh, the leaders were of the opinion that with no definite solution it means that Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel would spend all his time and concentration now on ensuring that his “gaddi" (seat) was intact.
The sources further said that while in private former Congress president Rahul Gandhi conceded that there was a rotation formula promised in Chhattisgarh, it was prevailed on him that changing an OBC face like Baghel ahead of crucial Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections would hurt the party considering the BJP was on a massive OBC outreach.
It was also conveyed to Rahul Gandhi and his advisers that while TS Singh Deo may be a senior leader from the state, he had few MLAs with him. While Baghel, who was a novice when he took charge as the Chief Minister, had used the 2.5 years in power to spread his support base and clout within the Congress. And as if on cue Baghel landed in Delhi with over 50 MLAs to prove this point, the sources added.
But G-23 is beginning to feel that all their fears are proving to be true and that the upcoming state assembly elections may push the Congress further out of the political space. One of the leaders mentioned that the Congress party was trying to rope in outsiders like poll strategist Prashant Kishore to fix things right.
Sources further said Kapil Sibal was of the opinion that this may not work for the party as the Congress any case boasts of experience and expertise. “If they listen to us then they don’t need to hire people from outside. Did Prashant Kishore help in Uttar Pradesh when he tied up with the Samajwadi Party? The problem is with our top leadership and their advisors. If Prashant Kishore joins he will be just one more among them. How will it improve things," asked a senior leader, who wished not to be named.
While the test case remains the upcoming state assembly polls, the growing schism between the Congress loyalists and the G-23 is hurting the party and possibly could jeopardise its mission 2024, especially with Opposition parties like Mamata Banerjee-led TMC surging ahead with their expansion plans at national level.