Ahead Of Rahul Gandhi's Rumoured Elevation, Congress Is Facing Quite The Exodus

08/06/2016 2:03 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 4: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi at Parliament House during the Parliament Session on May 4, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Congress walked out of the House demanding time-bound for Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The arrival of a new CEO is imminent at a company that has a long and successful history but has been steadily losing marketshare in the recent past. The new CEO will be faced with the task of a difficult turn around. But instead of a thumbs up, investors are dumping the stock. This is the unenviable situation the Indian National Congress is faced with.

The news that Congress Vice President and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi will be elevated to the top job surfaces every six month or so. After the latest round of drubbing in this round of assembly polls in May, last week, yet again news surfaced that Gandhi's elevation was imminent. But instead of confidence that he can turn things around for the Congress Party, which needs it rather badly, the party is faced with defections and desertions, in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Tripura and Chhattisgarh.

It's a measure of the confidence among Congressmen about Gandhi's ability to execute a turnaround. Congress Party sources have been maintaining a brave face, saying those who are deserting the party at this time are doing so for narrow reasons, such as denial of Rajya Sabha nominations, or opportunistic politics in the state.

On Tuesday, six Tripura lawmakers--Dilip Sarkar, Sudip Roy Barman, Asish Kumar Saha, Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl, Paranjit Singha Roy, and Biswa Bandhu Sen--quit the Congress Party to join Trinamool Congress. Earlier this week, two veteran leaders of the Congress Party, Ajit Jogi, who served as the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, and Gurudas Kamat, who led the party in Mumbai for decades, also left.

While Jogi said that he plans to float his own party, Kamat, who was reportedly unhappy over being sidelined in Mumbai, said that he is retiring from politics.

Last month, the Congress Party almost lost Uttarakhand after nine of its lawmakers including Vijay Bahuguna, former Chief Minister of the state, left and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Speaking to Times Now about the flight of the six lawmakers from Tripura on Tuesday, former Congress Party leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who joined the BJP in 2015, said that Rahul Gandhi could not lead the country.

Sarma, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's right-hand man for several years, was upset with the arrival of his son Gaurav Gogoi in 2013. Sarma eventually resigned after he was rebuffed by Rahul Gandhi, who responded to his concerns with a series of "so whats," while "playing with his dog."

Two years after that meeting, both Sarma and the state of Assam are with the BJP.

While senior Congress Party leaders are still muted in their criticism of Rahul Gandhi, it's no secret that his working style is perceived as standoffish by many old-timers of the Grand Old Party. There are several accounts of the 45-year-old leader either keeping veteran leaders waiting for hours or ignoring them completely when he visits their states. "These are small matters but indicate that things are changing fast within the party," a senior leader remarked in 2013.

Kamat's letter to the media suggests that he was deeply hurt that neither Rahul Gandhi nor senior Gandhi had even bothered to acknowledge his resignation letter. "Since there was no reply I have formally informed that I would like to retire from politics," he wrote.

Gandhi's attitude towards the old guard is read by some as a genuine attempt to break with the Congress Party's tradition of sycophancy and inject new blood into the aging party, but observers say that it isn't working because ultimately he ends up surrounding himself with a different lot of yes men who hold back from challenging him.

The Gandhi family also has a history of breaking with powerful leaders (Mamata Banerjee in 1997, Sharad Pawar and P.S. Sangma in 1999 and Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy in 2010, among others), but the past two years has seen an almost constant rate of defections including Sarma, Kamat, Bahuguna, and G.K. Vasan, who left to form Tamil Manila Congress.

While ambition and survival no doubt drives politicians to abandon ship, especially when the chips are down, observers point out that so many veteran leaders doing so suggests a shared sense of despondency at the present and future leadership of the Congress Party.

While the bad news mounts on the one side, little is heard from the Congress party about internal reform. It is seen in vigorous action during the Parliament sessions though, where it has managed to punch well above its weight of 44 MPs. But the presumed future boss of the Congress Party is unlikely to have easy work days.

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