Even as India continues to fight a deadly virus, the age-old infection afflicting the country’s grand old party has reared its ugly head, again.
This time it is in Rajasthan, one of the few states that a Congress-led government rules. As tensions between the two leaders simmered, Sachin Pilot, now sacked from the posts of Deputy chief minister and PCC Chief, mounted a rebellion along with 18 other MLAs, against CM Ashok Gehlot government, less than two years since the party came to power in the state and barely four months since it lost hold of Madhya Pradesh.
Hit by several twists and turns, including audio leaks purportedly showing criminal conspiracy to topple the state government, the political imbroglio has now reached the judicial corridors. As old-hands and allies desert the high-command’s embrace for greener pastures elsewhere, the oft-repeated question that the Sonia Gandhi-led party should answer is this: is it simply hunger for power or the Congress has failed to nurture talent?
As several party insiders and political pundits say, the Rajasthan crisis was waiting to happen. Pilot, 42, was reportedly disappointed over not being handed over the reins of the government, after the party’s triumph over the state in the 2018 assembly election. After a major drubbing in the 2013 polls, where he lost his seat from Ajmer, Pilot launched a renewed campaign in order to mobilize voter support. He went down and dirty while reaching out to the grassroots, even leaving his Lutyen’s bungalow for the same. However, just when he expected the high command led by the Gandhi-Vadra clan to reward him or his feat, the lobbyists among the old guard chose 69-year-old Ashok Gehlot, a son of the soil politician in his own right.
Even after being made the Deputy CM, Pilot claimed of facing constant pressure and obstacles during his tenure, and the recent Rajasthan Police notice, in a case of alleged attempts to destabilize the government, proved to be the last straw that made him look for an alternative political future. While having denied plans of joining the BJP for now, with Pilot’s revolt, the Congress has lost another charismatic leader with a mass appeal.
Inevitably, parallels are bound to be drawn with the episode involving former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose exit along with 22 MLAs from the party to join the BJP brought down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, propelling four-time CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan to power. Several reasons, such as being denied a leadership role in the party since the 2018 assembly polls, and a seat in the Rajya Sabha resulted in a dramatic coup by one of Rahul Gandhi’s closest confidants, other than Pilot. Clearly, being handed the role of general secretary in-charge of eastern UP did not fix matters in the party’s favour.
Apart from the young aspirants, the phenomena of Congress leaders jumping ships has a history to it. In the north-east, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who left the Congress in 2015 after a feud with the high command, has proved to be BJP’s knight in shining armour. He quickly climbed up the ranks of party leadership and effectively managed to overshadow Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal through exceptional crisis management skills.
Other Congress defectors like Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Rita Bahuguna Joshi in Uttar Pradesh or Vishwajit Rane in Goa have only added political heft and weight to BJPs electoral artillery.
Clearly, this goes on to show the unfulfilled ambitions and the bleak future these leaders were staring at, in the grand old party, which BJP quickly capitalized on. Young politicians Lok Sabha MP Anurag Thakur, known for using the rhetoric of Hindutva during election speeches and 29-year-old Tejaswi Surya, who after being elected as the BJPs youngest MP in the 2019 polls, has become a prominent face in the south, demonstrate the Narendra Modi-led governments penchant for fresh talent and an urge to groom the third generation of leaders.
Even veterans leaders like Mamata Banerjee, who left the Congress to form the Trinamool Congress and successfully managed to wrest West Bengal from a three-decade-long Left rule, or YSR Congress’ Jaganmohan Reddy, who after being sidelined by Sonia Gandhi-led coterie, eventually took control over Andhra Pradesh through sheer hardwork, or even NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose sharp political acumen continues dominate contemporary politics.
Following Pilot’s uprising, some political observers have questioned the Congress leader’s ideological integrity and slammed his impatience over not being made the chief minister. However, such an excuse is simply a manifestation of the Congress’ archaic problem of a sycophant coterie handing over the party’s key to the high command. True, along with five portfolios and second-in-command Gehlot, it would seem Pilot has got more than what he could have asked for. But, as per popular theory, not being given the top role in the state has much to do with Sonia Gandhi’s reluctance to encourage talented politicians lest her son and party scion Rahul loses his domineering image as a challenger to Modi.
However, in 1929, a 40-year-old Jawaharlal Nehru became the president of the party, while in 1966, 48-year-old Indira Gandhi was chosen as the prime minister. Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi, 40, became the country’s youngest prime minister. And lastly, in 2017, 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi took over the reins as the Congress president. No dearth of young blood when it comes to the khandaan (family).
Personal rivalries and ambitions, over expectations from one’s party leadership or vested interests, are part and parcel of not only Indian but world politics. Laying the blame on an individual for what arguably is a structural problem in the party is like missing the woods for the trees.
It increasingly seems that leaders are simply done with the Congress’ mai-baap culture. What makes the BJP emerge as the champion of young upcoming politicians who represent the new-age millennials, while the Congress is stuck in the old ways? The country’s opposition party has to get its house in order and indulge in some navel-gazing, as they say, especially after the 2019 Lok Sabha election blow, else a fate much like the Left in Bengal awaits them. Up next, Milin Deora or Jitin Prasada?