All is not well in the House of Gandhis. Dyed–in–the–wool Congresspersons are either raising the banner of revolt, or quitting the grand old party altogether. The High Command is looking increasingly beleaguered, despite loyalists flocking shrilly to its defence. From Maharashtra, Tamil du, Punjab, Harya to Assam, the rumblings of discontent against the Congress leadership are growing louder. With former Union minister and third generation Congress leader Jayanti tarajan leaving the party recently in a cloud of acrimony, the dirty linen is being washed in full public view. A few days earlier, Krish Tirath crossed over to the BJP. They have been preceded by Congress leaders like Jagdambika Pal, Rao Inderjit Singh and GK Vasan. Even P Chidambaram has turned his back to the Congress, while Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab has publicly criticised his party’s inner workings. So is the Congress now a sinking ship, as its political rivals are claiming gleefully? The worst ever drubbing it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, followed by electoral reverses in one state after another, only compound this impression of the Congress being in termil decline. There are even doubts whether the High Command is monolithic — will Sonia Gandhi remain party president or is it high time to draft Rahul Gandhi for the top post? It does not help matters when a section of Congressmen wistfully cry out for Priyanka Gandhi to take over the reins and filly get things moving in the party.
It is not as if the Congress leadership is sitting with hands folded as winds of political adversity batter the party. Reportedly PCC chiefs have been directed by Sonia Gandhi to hold consultations with leaders and workers, to elicit their views about redifining the Congress ideology and vision, bringing about organisatiol reforms, and making leaders at all levels accountable. One matter of concern for the Congress leadership is how to raise the party’s profile again before the youth and the urban middle class. There are plans to discuss all the inputs at the next AICC session likely in March. But the biggest enigma is Rahul Gandhi himself. He may be brainstorming with party leaders about how to recast the Congress as a leaner, meaner political force. But his brand of leadership, more akin to backseat driving, does not seem to inspire confidence even among his partymen. In fact, the impression has grown that the power struggle between Team Rahul and the party old guard has now developed into a full scale battle of attrition. It had started before the general elections last year, with selection of party candidates and mode of campaigning. Will Rahul Gandhi now succeed in pushing through organisatiol elections for all party positions with 2019 as the goal, or will a powerful section of party seniors prevail in maintaining the status quo of ‘nomition through consensus’?
Out of power at the Centre and with more and more states slipping out of its hands, there is a real possibility that the Congress will once again be held hostage by its old guard. With the party purse fast emptying, the regressive politics of patroge, of survival at any cost seems likely to continue. Among the handful of Congress ruled states, Assam too is suffering the effects of this interl power struggle and policy of drift and iction. A two–year long dissidence tied down the party and brought the entire state administrative machinery to a shuddering halt. When Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi filly got around to reshuffle his ministry, the old guard made a successful comeback while other votebank calculations were also given full play. Gogoi has professed interest in standing for elections again in 2016, with the Anjan Dutta led dispensation in the APCC dropping broad hints that ‘loyalty’ will be the most important factor in giving party tickets. This seems to be a clear ploy to keep Congress dissidents on tenterhooks. It remains to be seen whether Rahul Gandhi’s agenda to make the Congress more open and democratic in its workings, has any effect at all in Assam.