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A new low for Congress high command

Himachal crisis was triggered by the top brass’ refusal to address brewing rebellion against CM Sukhu

A new low for Congress high command

Lapse: For a central leadership that has always encouraged rebellion within, Priyanka Gandhi did not know how to control the levers of intra-party competition in Himachal Pradesh. File photo



Rajesh Ramachandran

ABOUT seven years ago, there was a Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat that disproved the invincibility of the new BJP’s election-winning machine. Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political adviser Ahmed Patel was seeking his fifth consecutive term in the Upper House. There were three seats up for grabs: two for the BJP and one for the Congress. Then BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani were the BJP candidates who sailed through. The Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, Shankersinh Vaghela, had split the Congress and taken away a chunk of the MLAs. Yet, the Congress had 44 legislators, which was enough for Patel’s victory.

Indian democracy is still waiting for the primary Opposition party’s leadership to come of age.

But the difference between the late Patel and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu is that the former planned for the worst-case scenario. Two Congress MLAs backstabbed the party candidate. However, their votes were declared invalid as they had shown their ballot papers to BJP leaders. Yet, the masterstroke was Patel preparing for a last-minute twist in the tale. He had a BJP rebel and an MLA of BJP ally JD(U) cross-vote for him. These two votes made all the difference. Patel’s victory in August 2017, three years after Modi came to power, was a big morale-booster for the Congress and the Opposition, proving that the BJP could be checkmated in its citadel.

There are no geniuses in politics, but only planners and doers. Patel was credited with magical machinations. But there was no sleight of hand or clairvoyance. His was a basic problem-solving approach towards a political situation. Elections need numbers and they need to be counted, again and again. The basic dictum of power politics is that those who stand closest would serve the hardest blow and the first lesson is to be prepared with extra numbers when the nearest ones slink away. Patel’s magic was to be prepared with a BJP and a JDU cross-voter each. But to count legislators and add up numbers, leaders need to have interpersonal chemistry.

The Congress central leadership has effectively alienated all senior leaders who can hold the hand, read the pulse and count a legislator in or out. Their services are no longer required in the post-Sonia Gandhi Congress. All the old leaders are being painted with a tar brush without new ones replacing them. So, Congress lawyer-leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi had to cut a sorry figure and say that he could not judge the character of those whom he supped with a day before the Rajya Sabha election. It is surprising because everybody else knew about a brewing rebellion against Sukhu, which the central leadership refused to address.

Earlier, the Congress top brass had always encouraged and rewarded rebellion, using rebels to keep satraps under check. Sukhu is the best example of a rebel rising up to topple the legacy of the biggest Congress mass leader in Himachal — Virbhadra Singh. Sukhu’s claim to fame has always been as the high command’s loyalist poking the six-term Chief Minister, who was an MLA nine times and an MP five times. The current crisis has proven that being a rebel is no real qualification to lead.

His detractors accuse him of punishing PWD officials for helping Virbhadra’s widow, state party president and Congress’ Mandi MP Pratibha Singh, during a foundation stone-laying ceremony. Obviously, such a CM would not know what’s cooking in his party.

Indira Gandhi could afford to keep top local leaders on their toes. For, she was not merely Nehru’s daughter but a child of the freedom movement. She knew local leaders and their competitors without any interlocutors introducing her to them. Not Rajiv Gandhi, whose infamous sackings in Andhra Pradesh led to the rise of Telugu pride and the Telugu Desam Party. And definitely not Priyanka Gandhi, who is not an elected member of any House. Democracy cannot be an exercise of power which has not been validated by the people directly or indirectly.

The primary task of the high command is to listen to the competing claims of the CM and his detractors. Most of the legislators, even ministers, do not have access to Priyanka or his brother. This has been the sad story of the Congress for a long time. It is now a family business run by proxies, with the owners refusing to look at the books. Many important functionaries in the Himachal Congress knew that the Rajya Sabha poll may end up messy. A former top leader openly, though privately, said it before the polls. But nobody was listening. Sukhu refused to hold the hands of his colleagues to read their pulse. And his government machinery was rendered useless by sundry advisers.

For a central leadership that has always encouraged rebellion within, this time round, Priyanka did not know how to control the levers of intra-party competition. Himachal is a bipolar polity, which does not offer a third alternative to defectors. Turncoats, in fact, find it difficult to make room for themselves in the opposite camp carrying the stigma of being a defector in society. Yet, if Congress legislators decide to move out of the party, it can only be because of the complete failure of the state and central leaders to “judge the character” of their own glorified selves. They almost surrendered the only government in north India to the BJP.

And it took Karnataka Deputy CM DK Shivakumar and former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda to bring the government back from the brink. And these are the kind of leaders that Rahul Gandhi may not like to associate with. Unfortunately, all mass leaders who have earned their spurs are out of Rahul’s charmed circle, reducing it to a bunch of featherweight hangers-on. That leaders like Shivakumar and Hooda should have been pressed into service before the poll and not afterwards is a lesson that Rahul and Priyanka have not yet learnt. Indian democracy is still waiting for the primary Opposition party’s leadership to come of age.

#BJP #Congress #Gujarat #Rajya Sabha #Sonia Gandhi


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