The internal politics of the Congress could well be an extreme case of democratization. Riven with dissensions, the party appears vertically split between ‘pro-reformers’ and the ‘loyalists’ – the latter a stickler to the Gandhi suffix for the top party position holder.
Things have come to such a pass that until last Sunday, most top ‘loyalists’ didn’t even know, or pretended not to acknowledge, the existence of a letter by the so-called G-23 which demanded a 24×7 visible and active leader plus elections to the top party setups.
The Congress Working Committee meeting on Monday took a harsh view of the dissenters, many of them – Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal — were subjected to questioning. And that’s about it.
The highest decision-making of the grand old party decided to keep things as it is: no change in leadership; and party polls would take place not before six months. Worse, no one even knew what exactly the contents of the letter, purportedly written on August 7, were.
In an interview to the Hindustan Times, Kapil Sibal was brutally honest. He has said the party is at “historic low” and that the Aug 7 letter did call for a visible, effective and full-time leader and elections at all levels of the party.
It now transpires that the dissenters’ letter raised an 11-point action plan for the 134-year-old party, warning it of erosion in its support base with the desertion of leaders across states.
Parts of the letter, first reported on Sunday, called for an introspection of the reasons behind the party’s “steady decline”, and called upon the party to take the initiative for the formation of a “national coalition of democratic and secular forces” against the ruling BJP.
“Even after 14 months of the 2019 electoral verdict, the Congress has not undertaken any honest introspection to analyse the reasons for its continued decline,” said the letter.
The CWC was not guiding the organization effectively in building public opinion against the BJP, according to the letter. The “institutional process of merit-based and consensus-backed” selection had been disrupted, it added.
“We have witnessed a steady decline of the Congress party reflected in successive electoral verdicts in states and general elections in 2014 and 2019. Reasons are manifold and need to be immediately identified. Otherwise, the Congress will find itself marginalized, both in the states, which is already apparent, as well as at the national level,” the letter said.
The letter writers did acknowledge the role of the Nehru-Gandhi family to make the Congress a powerful force in the country. The letter also appreciated the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
On the other hand, the party leadership hit back at the dissenters on Thursday, appointing Gaurav Gogoi its deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. Ravneet Bittu is now the whip in the Lok Sabha. The move sent a strong message to leaders such as Shahshi Tharoor and Manish Tewari, both part of the G-23.
The party also constituted a group of 10 MPs, a move which sought to dilute the autonomy that Azad and Anand Sharma enjoyed in the Rajya Sabha.
Also on Thursday, Azad questioned the dilly-dallying over party polls. “What’s the harm in elections? I was elected a CWC member even though the leadership had openly announced that members should not vote for me,” said Azad.
Meanwhile, Bihar polls are around the corner. Given the “drift” in the party, it’s anybody’s guess as to what might be in store for the party in a state dominated by JD-U’s Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad’s RJD with BJP playing a significant role in running the government as an ally of the NDA.