Sandeep Sahu

The Congress high command (read the Gandhis) has only itself to blame for the royal mess that it finds itself in. It should have seen what is coming when it chose to back Ashok Gehlot for the party president’s post even as it maintained a facade of neutrality. Wily old fox that Gehlot is, he was quick to see through the move to install Sachin Pilot, his bete noire, as the next Chief Minister of Rajasthan after ‘kicking him upstairs’ as the party chief and so predictably initiated a countermove to prevent such an eventuality. The result: what was supposed to be a question of who will become the next Congress president has now been reduced to who will be the next Chief Minister of Rajasthan!

That the Gandhis had no intention of remaining ‘neutral’ and giving a level playing field to all prospective candidates for the party president’s post – as it had publicly proclaimed - was clear when it slyly lent its weight behind the Rajasthan Chief Minister. But what it had obviously not bargained for was the extent to which Gehlot would go to install a loyalist as the next Chief Minister of his state. And Gehlot can hardly be faulted for his move to protect his home turf. After all, there was nothing incongruous about Gehlot trying to rule Rajasthan by proxy when the Gandhis themselves intended to do the same with him as the first non-Gandhi president of the Congress in decades.

Ruling by proxy, of course, has been the preferred strategy of Sonia Gandhi, the supposedly ‘interim’ Congress president, since one can enjoy power without accountability. For a decade, she ruled the country by proxy after anointing Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. So, it was only natural for her to back a loyalist horse for party president when it became apparent that the Gandhis could no longer remain the ‘high command’ without expediting the exodus from the party or – worse still – endangering a split. Given the sorry state the party is in, the best course for Sonia would have been to read the writing on the wall and stay true to her publicly professed neutrality. That would have not only enhanced her moral stature, but also given the new incumbent a free hand to rebuild the party ahead of the 2024 elections. But having gotten used to wielding all the power – without any accountability, of course – in the party for over two decades, any arrangement in which the Gandhis will not call the shots was clearly anathema to the first lady of the Grand Old Party.

The crisis that the Congress is finding itself in could not have come at a worse time for the party. The fast-changing developments, the intrigues and the backroom maneuvering within the party have shifted the focus completely away from the Bharat Jodo Yatra launched by Rahul Gandhi, which was supposed to be an exercise in galvanizing the party organization ahead of the next general elections. And they have come just weeks ahead of the election for the post of party president on October 19. Whoever ultimately becomes the party president would have an enviable task on his or her hands – ‘managing’ the high command (which, by all indications, has no intention of relinquishing power) on the one hand and rejuvenating the moribund party organization on the other. It is hard to say which of the two is the more difficult task. The incoming president will have to be a Superman – or a Superwoman – to accomplish both.

How do the developments in Delhi affect the Congress in Odisha? PCC president Sarat Pattanayak, of course, is putting up a brave face in public, talking of a ‘9 to 90’ quantum jump in the next Assembly elections. But his tall claim is not backed by ground realities. There is no indication whatsoever that the party organization is coming back to life anytime soon. Any hope that it would spring to life once the Bharat Jodo Yatra begins in the state on October 31 is mere wishful thinking, given the response to it in states already covered. For all one knows, the crisis in the party could deepen further after the party president’s election on October 19 (assuming that it is not postponed again).

The point to note here is the Congress in Odisha has been in a steady freefall since 2000, when the BJD-BJP alliance stormed to power and Naveen became the Chief Minister. The downward slide continued even during the 10-year period when the Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre as the party high command chose to play footsie with the BJD rather than taking it head on. And with the Centre in complete disarray, things look even bleaker for the Odisha unit. Having already conceded the principal opposition position to the BJP in the 2019 elections, the Congress’ hope of winning 90 out of the 147 seats in the Assembly in the next elections appears to be a daydream.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.) 

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