The irony was glaring. Even as known Congress baiter and once ignored by Rahul Gandhi, Himanta Biswa Sarma, took charge as chief minister of Assam, in Delhi, the Congress Working Committee was meeting to discuss the poll results.
First, the much-awaited and many-times-postponed Congress presidential polls have been deferred again. The reason this time is the Covid crisis. Sources say while organisational secretary KC Venugopal suggested June 23, senior leaders like Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad said it’s not right to hold elections during the pandemic. Others agreed, so once again there is no clarity on when the polls will be held. Interestingly, this time the plea for postponement came from those who were part of the group of 23 dissenters, dubbed G23, who had asked for clarity on the party’s future course and internal polls.
G23 members in a letter to interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in August last year had said that the party was going downhill and not having a full-term president was hurting it. There was a renewed demand at the CWC for Rahul Gandhi to take over as party president. Rahul though was absent from the meeting.
The assembly poll results were also discussed though Sonia Gandhi has set up a committee for this purpose. The committee will look into the reasons for its losses. Particularly embarrassing was the defeat in Kerala as where, by convention, the Congress-led United Democratic Front should have won. The loss is even more troubling as Rahul Gandhi is an MP from the state.
In Bengal, the Congress failed to win a single seat, even in its strongholds like Malda and Murshidabad. Sources say state unit chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was silent at the meet. But a point was made that the difference in the party’s stand at the Centre and the state level had confused the cadre and voters as well. While the central leadership seemed to be in favour of going soft on Mamata Banerjee, the state leaders were against it, wondering why.
In Assam, the feeling was that the benefit of the alliance there went to allies like AIUDF and not the Congress. In fact, many in other states had squirmed on hearing of this alliance because they felt this would harm the party’s new Hindutva agenda, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
In Kerala, the reason for the Left Democratic Alliance victory given at the CWC was the Covid management by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the fact that the Congress could not deliver on that front.
There is no clarity on when the committee will submit its report on the party’s poll performance. But this is not the first such committee that has been set up. There have been three others earlier. But none of their recommendations or observations have been incorporated. The biggest concern has been that the Congress has lost its fighting ability and regional players have become more powerful. Some feel that the Congress has ceded space to regional parties.
It’s also been felt that with a confused leadership line, the workers are not enthusiastic enough. And even as important state elections like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are coming up, in Punjab the infighting between Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu has become even deeper, which could harm their prospects in the state, particularly with Aam Aadmi Party making a push. On the other hand, in UP, the Congress is more of a bit player.
This CWC meeting has also not brought about a shift. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when it comes to the Congress party.