The internal upheaval in the Congress continues, with PC Chacko, a four-time Member of Parliament (MP) from Kerala, now quitting the party. His gripe — factionalism in the state unit and the lack of leadership at the central level.
That Chacko failed to find an attentive ear in Delhi spoke volumes about the internal state of play in the Congress. Why couldn't the veteran leader be talked out of leaving the party? The question is even more relevant when Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Kerala, which is also the home state of KC Venugopal, the general secretary in-charge of organisational affairs.
Not that there weren't any election-time threats to leave the party in the past. But timely interventions saved the day.
Among the leaders placated or persuaded to stay included such weighty names as Siddaramaiah, Amarinder Singh, Virbhadra Singh and more recently, Sachin Pilot. The leadership's emissary in most of these cases was the late Ahmed Patel, whose word carried the weight of Sonia Gandhi. Patel had his work cut out as the Congress president's plenipotentiary. His brief was to persuade or cajole party-persons to fall in line, upon conveying her desire or decision.
It won't be easy to substitute the temperament and the agency Patel brought to the 24x7 job. Only three among his peers can, perhaps, match his network and political experience: Ashok Gehlot, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Digvijaya Singh. Of them, Gehlot alone passes the "loyalty test", but is reluctant to move out of Rajasthan.
Truth be told, what Congress needs is the utility, not as much the individual loyalty, of leaders with proven capability. Many among the Group of 23 who sought election-driven intraparty reforms have been assigned duties for the upcoming assembly polls. Why the rest of them are out in the cold remains unclear. On paper, the G23 might have been reduced to G7 or 8 if one takes out the original signatories who've since been drafted for party work. That, however, doesn't dilute their case for the party's organisational revival. Even if a few among them are pursuing personal goals, the leadership must take a generous view of them as a group the party needs. For their part, the reformists who haven't found a place in the list of campaigners should have, by now, written another letter to Sonia Gandhi, offering to campaign in states up for polls. This would have burnished their credentials.
The advice isn't out of place at a time the Congress's internal consultative mechanism is in shambles. With access to Sonia Gandhi limited after Patel's demise, and Rahul Gandhi remaining out of bounds for most party-persons, the Congress is undergoing a multiple organ dysfunction. Rather than awaiting word from the interim chief, the ginger group, whose key members had an interaction recently with Priyanka Vadra, has to be proactive if it's keen to be co-opted for canvassing.
To be fair, Rahul Gandhi has shown no signs of changing the stance he took while demitting office as party chief. He remains convinced that the de jure leadership must move out of the Gandhi family domain. The hiatus between what he thinks and what his mother wants is an open secret.
The other conundrum is whether his and Priyanka Vadra's presence in the party, without leadership responsibility, will help the new dispensation after organisational elections. Talk privately to even those who are committed to the Gandhis, and they agree that the family has no place in the backbenches. They should either sit out or step up to lead.
The contradiction between the designated and de facto leadership can exist only when the top leader, as is the case with the Bharatiya Janata Party, makes the party win elections without holding organisational office. That hasn't happened for Congress in a long time. It has, instead, seen 170 legislators resigning their seats to contest from other parties in seven big and small states where it had governments or was the single-largest party. The talent-drain continues unabated — the leader refusing to return to do the heavy lifting.
Vinod Sharma is the political editor of Hindustan Times
Disclaimer: This article first appeared in Hindustan Times, and is published by special syndication arrangement.