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How inhouse feud cost Cong bright stars

While Ajit Jogi may have had several other reasons to become politically irrelevant, the tag of a ‘rootless wonder’ making it really big offers adequate food for thought for Rahul and Sonia Gandhi to explore whether palace intrigue, pitting one against the other within the Congress parivar are appropriate tools. A cursory look at the Congress’ internal politics in Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and other states would tell how factionalism and the high command’s schemes are ea

How inhouse feud cost Cong bright stars

Jinxed: Birender Singh (centre) earned the nickname of ‘tragedy king’ till he crossed over to the BJP in 2014.



Rasheed Kidwai

Senior Journalist and Author

Even as former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi fights a grim battle for survival in a hospital in Raipur, the IAS officer-turned politician’s meteoric rise and fall in politics makes a compelling study of the Congress’ now-decadent high command culture. The leadership’s old practices of use and throw, instigating minions to take on the powerful and the entrenched and then abruptly dumping them needs a thorough review. When the Congress was all-powerful and majestic, it could, perhaps, afford palace intrigue, but not in times when it is facing an existential crisis.

Jogi was a popular district magistrate of Indore in 1986 when the bureaucrat was suddenly elevated to the Rajya Sabha. As Prime Minister and Congress president, Rajiv Gandhi was reportedly keen to cut

some regional satraps to size, such as Arjun Singh, Motilal Vora, the Shukla brothers, Madhavrao Scindia and PC Sethi.

For over a decade, Jogi tried, though rather unsuccessfully, to trouble the party’s established leadership in Madhya Pradesh. When the state was bifurcated in 2000 and Chhattisgarh was carved out, AICC chief Sonia Gandhi defied all local equations, MLAs’ headcount and claimant Vidya Charan Shukla’s credentials to install Jogi as Chief Minister. It was a move fraught with dire consequences. The Congress lost power in 2003 and sat outside till 2018. Jogi, too, ran out of luck, political steam and 10, Janpath’s favour.

In 2016, he formed a regional outfit, the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress. It failed to have any impact.

While Jogi may have had several other reasons to become politically irrelevant, the tag of a ‘rootless wonder’ making it really big offers adequate food for thought for Rahul and Sonia Gandhi to explore whether palace intrigue, pitting one against the other within the Congress parivar are appropriate tools. A cursory look at the Congress’ internal politics in Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and other states would tell how factionalism and the high command’s schemes are eating into the vitals of whatever remains of the grand old party.

Contemporary Congress history is littered with instances of how the party lost some bright spots due to inhouse politicking. In the Congress folklore, Choudhry Birender Singh had earned the nickname of being a ‘tragedy king’till he crossed over to a ‘greener pasture’, i.e. the BJP, on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Birender was subsequently drafted as union minister in the Narendra Modi government. But, in the Congress, his induction in the Union Cabinet had been ‘jinxed’ since the Narasimha Rao era. After Pawan Bansal’s removal as Minister for Railways, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sent his name, but minutes before the then President Pranab Mukherjee could administer the oath to him, some behind-the-scene developments saw white fluid being used to replace him with Mallikarjun Kharge.

Even today, in private conversations, Birender Singh reportedly considers Sonia as one of the tallest leaders of the country, but blames the clique around her for all the wrongdoings.

CP Joshi of Haryana and R Prabhu of the Tamil Nadu Congress are some other examples of how the Congress leadership initially asked them to take on powerful party leaders and then abruptly abandoned them. Around 2008, Rahul Gandhi was contemplating to ‘reform’ the party from within and R Prabhu, a former actor-turned-politician, was quietly signalled to organise meetings of disgruntled party leaders against a powerful union minister from the state. After months of hard work, the central leadership abruptly asked him to halt all hostilities.

CP Joshi, currently Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly, was once Rahul’s favourite. A former professor of psychology, Joshi was encouraged and promoted to take on the established party leadership in Rajasthan. In 2008, Joshi was heading the Rajasthan Congress unit when he lost the Assembly polls by one vote from Nathdwara in Rajsamand district. He was a frontrunner for the Chief Minister’s post, but the defeat put him on a path of steady decline.

In the Punjab Congress, too, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Partap Singh Bajwa were actively encouraged to take on Captain Amarinder Singh. A spirited resistance was put up, but not before undermining their own credibility and standing. The Congress was somewhat fortunate to have survived and kept its house intact in Punjab. In Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia got fed up with ‘empty promises’ and the Kamal Nath government was toppled.

Both Rahul and Sonia seem heavily influenced by the working styles of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, who often played musical chairs with party chief ministers and chieftains. Buta Singh was a Union minister who loved his reputation as Rajiv’s ‘hatchet man’. Between 1985 and 1989, toppling many Congress and non-Congress state governments, Buta had almost run amok, but he was not alone in this league. MF Fotedar, RK Dhawan, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, V George and other party leaders attained power and stature simply as the Gandhi family’s eyes and ears who performed the hatchet job against chief ministers of party-ruled states without any sense of remorse or accountability.

To be fair to Rahul, the former AICC chief seems to be making a bid to change the party’s style of functioning. His bid to hold consultations with policy experts, attempts to frequently interact with the media via video-conferencing etc are welcoming. These genuine attempts would gain currency if Rahul managed to democratise the party’s internal matters too, such as the selection of state party chiefs and Congress legislature party leaders. In more immediate terms, he and Sonia need to address the disquiet in the Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra Congress units so that the party is able to thwart any attempt to dislodge these governments.


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