“Congress is the country, and the country is Congress”, declared Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), Indian National Congress (INC) president. This is a striking remark to make for a political party in a democratic nation. INC is one of the oldest political parties to be formed in India and was founded long before the communist parties.
Congress party has been in shambles ever since Rahul Gandhi (MP from Wayanad, Kerala) officially resigned from the post of party president on 3rd July 2019. Many critics claim that the party cannot survive without the Gandhis. Well, those who make this claim seem to have forgotten the history of Congress. The Indian National Congress is over 130 years old, much older than the Gandhis or the Nehrus. Congress came into existence much before the Gandhis and doesn’t need Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi for its survival now.
It’s surprising to know that a party which had one individual hold the President’s post for about 20 years (Sonia Gandhi) had to change their party president every year until the 1930s. Senior leaders could be elected more than once, but after some years after their previous term.
In the first 40 years since its inception, many eminent personalities have taken the post of party president - Gopal Krishna Gokhle, Lala Lajpat Rai, Abul Kalam Azaad, among others.
Massive Infighting during the Nehru Era
In 1938, Subhash Chandra Bose, with the support of Nehru, Gandhi and Patel, was elected as the Congress president. Next year, a huge argument broke out between Gandhi and Bose over the Congress President’s post, to rebut, Gandhi pressurised the whole of Congress Working Committee (CWC) to resign. Ultimately, Bose had to resign in 1939. A similar war of words was exchanged in 1949 between Patel and Nehru. In 1951 they passed a resolution which requested Nehru to take up the president’s post with no elections. This is where the decline of Congress’ democracy had begun. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao continued the tradition which impaired the foundation of the party. The party which fought with every ounce of sweat for our freedom and brought democracy had itself ceased to be democratic.
That was the 50s. Here we are now, at the turn of a new decade at a time where the Congress party seems rudderless and is facing an uphill battle not just against the BJP and Modi wave but also to keep its members from switching parties. The last two years have seen its fair share of political drama, but news about Congress loyalists leaving the party has managed to take the spotlight.
High Profiles Game of Thrones (2019-2020)
Nataka In Karnataka
Karnataka is a state where no incumbent government has been re-elected in over three decades. The Karnataka political crisis continued to unravel until the resignation of 16 Congress- JD(S) [Janta Dal (Secular)] rebel MLAs on 6th July 2019, which led to the fall of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government. BJP, the saffron party, led by BS Yeddyurappa, won the trust vote after 105 MLAs voted for them. There were chants of “Operation Lotus” on the floor of the house by the Congress loyalists. DK Shivkumar, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, made several attempts to negotiate with the dissenting MLAs, but to no avail. 10 of the rebel MLAs had travelled to Mumbai to stay away from the political drama in the state. On July 8, Kumaraswamy, (then Chief Minister) was asked to step down by the BJP as his government had allegedly slipped into a minority. KC Venugopal, General Secretary, AICC, promised to address the problems of the rebels and appealed to them to come back, but it was too late. In a 224 member Vidhan Soudha House, 204 were present and voted for the leader of the opposition, Yeddyurappa
BS Yeddyurappa (left), HD Kumarswamy (right)
Mamaji Raj in Madhya Pradesh
Lockdown? That doesn’t deter Indian politicians from “horse-trading”. A huge political drama unfolded in March 2020 in the heart of India, Madhya Pradesh. Former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia (then Guna MP) tendered his resignation, putting a full stop to long-drawn speculations. The crisis started when Digvijay Singh accused Shivraj Singh Chouhan of bribing some Congress MLAs with Rs 25 crores. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had allegedly refused to meet the former Guna MP, which led to him skipping the Sonia and Kamal Nath meeting. This fuelled the fire, causing Scindia to ride his black RangeRover to PM Modi’s residence. In a sensational development, Congress’ Scindia announced his resignation from the grand old party. This caused a domino effect and led to 22 MLAs resigning with him. Jyotiraditya Scindia has now become Rajya Sabha member of the parliamentary committee on Human Resources and Development (HRD).
Jyotiraditya Scindia with BJP President JP Nadda
Whose Raj in Rajasthan?
This Rajasthan crisis is hot from the oven. Even as Ashok Gehlot (CM of Rajasthan) had sidelined Sachin Pilot, he still needed to secure his cadre. The Rajasthan government was celebrated as a comeback of Congress party after it defeated the Vasundhara Raje government in 2018. After the emphatic win, many political pundits believed that Pilot will assume the post of Chief Minister, but the Congress high-command had other plans and made him the deputy CM instead. Just a few weeks back Sachin Pilot was sacked from the party which led to fury amongst his loyalists. This put the Gehlot government in troubled waters. Gehlot claims that Pilot was conspiring against his party, which led to him being axed. But we feel that this is just as an alibi. When the COVID-19 special task force was being formed in the state, Pilot was left out and he was not consulted in any of the decisions taken by the government since its creation. This raised a question in the Pilot’s head, “Who’s the boss?”. Pilot had given every ounce of sweat and blood to the people of Rajasthan in the run-up elections and he was left out in the majority of the talks causing doubts in his head too. BJP has welcomed Pilot to its team but Pilot is yet to make a decision, whether he wants to start his party or shake hands with the BJP like The floor test will be held anytime in this month to avoid further instability in the state especially during a pandemic.
Sachin Pilot (left) and Ashok Gehlot (right)
Well, you just read 3 case studies that have transpired in the last 2 years. There are many more if we dig into the history of politics. So making life easier we have listed down 10 steps which delineate how political turmoil unfolds when a loyalist decides to leave the Congress.
Steps of how a Congress loyalist becomes a rebel:
Step 1: Generally a scuffle between two leaders in the same party leads to a party crisis. The Gandhis smell foul but chose to remain silent.
Step 2: War of words erupts in the public domain.
Step 3: If the squabble continues, the state party president talks to the leaders and listens to the resentful members and then makes an assurance that the matter will be raised to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the Gandhis.
Step 4: This step is a time-buying strategy used by the party, and it involves a series of phone calls to the states and the top-brass of INC.
Step 5: The Gandhis at point decide which leader (s) to support and which to be disowned, depending on the feedback by the AICC in-charge.
Step 6: War of words turns violent and open rebellion starts. The Gandhis are very rigid on what to offer the rebel leaders. This makes the negotiations even tougher.
Step 7: “Saam Daam Dand Bhed”. The old saying by Chanakya is brought to use by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). They have started to make moves to topple the government.
Step 8: Rounds of frantic parleys take place within the INC but leads to no solution as the Gandhis don’t budge from their stand and still don’t meet the offers set by the rebels.
Step 9: It’s very rare but Gandhis sometimes offer an audience and make public statements asking the rebels to reconcile and assurance is given that he/she will be rewarded in the future.
Step 10: Final nail in the coffin. The rebellion(s) either leave Congress to form a new party (like Sharad Pawar (NCP) or Mamata Banerjee (TMC)) or strike a deal with the BJP (like JyotirAditya Scindia).
Ticking Bomb looming over Congress
Even after two back to back high profile exits from the Congress Party, the party has cried treachery. But the problem was only the clash between the politics of feudal patronage and power. It’s now or never for the Congress party. They need to get rid of the Superior-Inferior politics and get back to their roots and foundation that set the tone of the party and made them win several elections.
There is some internal squabbling in the BJP camp, but it gets resolved inside the four walls. The congress is currently demotivated and leaderless, which is one of the reasons the infighting occurs. A headless chicken will not survive for long, and its time for a shift of power from the Gandhis to someone more accountable and dominant to change its present fortunes.