Close on the heels of a “letter bomb” hitting the Congress high command, the party’s Telangana unit is caught in a storm over a section of senior leaders scripting a similar campaign focusing on ‘social justice’ plank.
A group of leaders from the Scheduled Caste and Backward Class communities held a closed door meeting in Warangal a couple of days ago and resolved to pitch for a vibrant local leadership that represents the Bahujan population as a replacement to what they called “sycophants” who are currently at the helm, merely at the mercy of the top brass in Delhi.
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The rebels in Telangana are of the view that the Congress cannot be revived from its current moribund state unless it takes up drastic organisational reforms and hands over the reins of the local leadership to those representing the marginalised sections.
The grand old party in India’s youngest state is grappling with existential crisis following steady desertions from its camp and back-to-back electoral debacles in 2014 and 2018.
As many as 12 of its 18 MLAs in the 119-member Assembly had defected to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in batches. As a result, it has lost the main opposition status in the House.
The All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), an ally of the TRS, enjoys the opposition status now as it has 7 MLAs.
Groupism has been the bane of the Congress. As a result, it has been unable to take on an aggressive TRS.
The state president N Uttam Kumar Reddy, whose fourth term at the helm will end in March next year, has been facing flak for failing to stem the rot in the party. He has offered to quit the post in the face of growing chorus for change of guard and hand over the baton to any leader chosen by the high command. However, the central leadership is yet to take a call.
Voices for social justice
“The future for the Congress will continue to be bleak in the next assembly elections, due in 2023, unless it forges a social cohesion with the OBCs and SCs at the helm,” says a Dalit leader Addanki Dayakar.
“We will take this slogan to every nook and corner of the state,” he said.
Some of the prominent OBC leaders in the party like Ponnala Lakshmaiah, V Hanumantha Rao and Anjan Kumar Yadav are said to be the aspirants for the PCC president’s post.
According to party sources, the Warangal meeting will be the first in a series of such regional meetings being planned to mount pressure on the high command to overhaul the organisation.
For long, the Congress is identified with Reddys, an influential and prosperous community. When it was in power in the combined Andhra Pradesh, a majority of the chief ministers and others holding key positions were from this community.
Even as the party high command is embroiled in a leadership crisis, the aspirants for the PCC chief post – in anticipation of changes in the state party leadership – are busy making a beeline to Delhi.
The notable among the contenders Revanth Reddy, currently working president of the TPCC, and Komatireddy Venkata Reddy, MP from Nalgonda district.
However, a majority of the OBC leaders in the party have been demanding that the PCC chief post be given to them.
When Revanth was made one of the working presidents of the party ahead of the December 2018 Assembly elections, there was furore in the state Congress with several seniors including V Hanumantha Rao, Renuka Choudary, D Aruna and K Venkat Reddy raising objections over his elevation. He is seen as an outsider by a section of leaders in the party as he had defected from the TDP.
“I don’t deny power tussle among different social groups in the party. However, achieving a consensus among the OBCs appears to be a difficult task,” Revanth said.
A section of the Congress leaders attribute the present crisis to the party’s failure to come out of the grip of the upper caste Reddy community. Since Independence, the Congress has been heavily dependent on this community for its political survival.
Despite repeated electoral setbacks, there has been no attempt to change the state leadership, with Uttam Kumar Reddy being allowed to continue.
Struggle for survival
A plethora of factors have contributed to the present existential crisis of the Congress. Despite granting statehood for Telangana during the UPA-II in 2014, it has failed to capitalise on it but allowed the TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao to walk away with all the credit and reap electoral benefits by positioning himself as the architect of the new state. The party could win just two LS seats in the 2014 elections while the TRS walked away with 12. It was a poor show in the Assembly polls as well with the opposition party managing to win 21 seats.
The absence of a strong and charismatic regional leader with a state-wide appeal had a telling effect. The party had, over years, failed to nurture strong regional leaders who could take independent decisions and stand up to the emergence of a formidable regional player. Added to the party’s woes were fierce infighting and groupism and lack of a cohesive campaign strategy.