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congress in crisis: leadership challenged



prashant sood & sreeparna chakrabarty


it has not been an easy time for the congress since it went down to its lowest tally in the lok sabha elections two months back. while the party is witnessing internecine battles in many states, it is also facing competition from some regional parties to hog the opposition space in the lok sabha.

what is even more worrying for the party leadership is that there appears a subliminal current against the stewardship of party vice-president rahul gandhi, whom many hold responsible for the party's rout in the general election.

the party appears not to have been able to assert itself in the lok sabha where it is seeking recognition for its leader mallikarjun kharge as the leader of opposition in the house. the congress has 44 members in the lok sabha and is closely followed by the aiadmk with 37 members and trinamool congress with 34.

trinamool congress appears to be faring better than the congress as an opposition party. during the presentation of the rail budget, it was the trinamool congress which was most vocal in its protests. the aiadmk and the biju janata dal (20 members) are also making their presence felt.

trinamool congress mp sultan ahmed claimed that the congress had lost touch with the common man and that was the reason for the party not taking the lead in raising issues.

"when they (congress) were in power, they had insulated themselves from the common man. naturally, they are failing on the floor of the house," ahmed, who is the mp from uluberia in west bengal, told ians.

congress president sonia gandhi is a regular during question hour and "zero hour" in the lok sabha and takes her seat on the front bench. but her son rahul gandhi prefers to sit on the back benches and rarely participates in the debates or rises to make a point on any issue. rahul was once caught on camera taking a nap in the house which gave the ruling bharatiya janata party (bjp) another opportunity to attack him and the congress.

ysr congress mp from nellore m. rajamohan reddy was of the view that the congress was demoralised due to the scale of its defeat and the loss of many of its articulate leaders in the election.

the party has given an informal whip that at least 22 members should be in the house at any given time but that does not appear to be the norm. the party's seniormost member in terms of electoral wins, kamal nath (ninth term), has not been seen much in the house.

the congress is also facing internal problems as rumblings have begun in some of the state units which will face assembly polls in a few months. the expected organisational revamp is also not in sight.

sonia gandhi had talked of drawing "appropriate lessons" from the "unprecedented setback" days after the lok sabha results but the party has not come up with a plan of action at the grassroot level despite the modi government being on the defensive on the issue of price rise.

the 3-0 win in the uttarakhand by-elections a couple of days ago brought some cheer to the beleagured party but it is the coming assembly polls in maharashtra, haryana, jharkhand and jammu and kashmir that are crucial for the congress efforts for a revival.

however, the scenario in many states does not present a rosy picture.

senior minister narayan rane quit his post in maharashtra as did himanta biswa sarma in assam ostensibly because of the party's central leadership not changing incumbent chief ministers - prithviraj chavan and tarun gogoi respectively - who failed to ensure a credible performance during the lok sabha polls.

the attacks on chief ministers are being seen in some sections as veiled attacks on party vice president rahul gandhi due to his apparent backing to the two chief ministers, though the party has denied any such link.

apart from the resignations of rane and sarma from the their ministerial posts, three congress legislators have joined the trinamool congress in west bengal. two-time party mp chowdhary lal singh left the party in jammu and kashmir and there have been constant demands from some senior leaders in haryana to replace bhupinder singh hooda as chief minister.

mehboob ali kaiser, lok janshakti party mp from khagaria in bihar who spent long years in the congress before quitting it two months before this year's lok sabha polls, said there was a sense of "drift" in the congress.

"even now (there) appears no change. after the drubbing, they should wake up to the reality, put things in the right perspective," kaiser told ians.

he said there was a lack of confidence in the central leadership of the congress. "that's why people are leaving. they are not getting a patient hearing," he said.

recalling his own experience, kaiser, a former chief of the bihar congress, said that he had found it difficult to meet and explain matters to a congress functionary who was in charge of bihar.

some congressmen, in private, also complain about the style of functioning of people in rahul gandhi's team and their own sense of unease with them.

"they (rahul's aides) are young but inexperienced. it is easy to relate to a person who understands you and the contribution you have made," said a congress mp who did not want to be named. he said the party office-bearers in charge of states should be decisive and should not keep issues pending.

however, gaurav gogoi, son of assam cm tarun gogoi against whom sarma has raised the banner of revolt,
defended the party leadership.

"people in leadership are taking everything into account," he said. "there are by-elections and municipal polls in assam. the assembly polls are in 2016. i am confident that we will do well as a party," gaurav told ians.

bjp mps attributed the troubles of the congress to problems related to leadership. "there is likely to be a demand in the coming months that priyanka gandhi vadra should play a more central role in that party," said arjun meghwal, bjp mp from bikaner.

but congress spokesperson sanjay jha dismissed talk of the party facing a crisis. "the party is doing a very thorough and detailed self-examination to see the kind of challenges and to go forward."

he attributed the resignation of the two state ministers to "personal ambitions" and said these were sporadic incidents.

"we are bullish. we are more than resolved to move forward. we are very well entrenched. we will be reinvigorated and ready for the future," he claimed.

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