Revival proves short-lived: Gujarat Congress back to its old habit of infighting
The grand old party is in the pits once again in Gujarat. Having put up an exceptional performance in the recent assembly polls, the Congressmen are back to their old ways of squabbling and gunning for each other. It comes as a surprise that a party that has out of power for more than two decades still witnesses these games and tussle of one-upmanship.
The state of affairs can be gauged from a joke cracked by one of the Congress leaders to this reporter when he said, “We were told by our president Rahul Gandhi to fight against the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In our zeal we have all forgotten about Modi, Shah and the BJP and instead have taken to fighting with each other.”
This time the eye of the storm has been triggered from the all important Saurashtra region that sends almost one third of the MLAs to the state assembly. A few days back, former Congress MLA and a high profile leader from Rajkot, Indranil Rajyaguru, announced his departure from the party, Rajyaguru had unsuccessfully contested the last polls against the Chief Minister Vijay Rupani from the Rajkot (West) seat that is a traditional bastion of the BJP. Reports say that he was not happy with the functioning of the state unit of the party. He has proceeded on a visit abroad even as his resignation stands unaccepted as of now.
His resignation was followed by 17 municipal corporators in Rajkot extending support to him and threatening to quit the party on Tuesday unless he was brought back into the party fold and his demands were met. In a parallel development another Congress leader Nirav Bakshi reportedly quit the party along with his 200 supporters when he did not get the expected presidentship of the party’s city unit.
His supporters created mayhem at the state headquarters of the party in Paldi area of Ahmedabad as they stormed a media briefing of the state president Amit Chavda who was attempting to send out the message that all was well in the party. Bakshi is a former city head of the Youth Congress and son of former city chief Surendra Bakshi.
In Rajkot, Rajyaguru's resignation was preceded by his arch rival in the party and Jasdan MLA Kunwarji Bavaliya calling on Rahul Gandhi in Delhi. It is learnt that Rahul has offered him a greater role in the organisational set up at the central level. But even Bavaliya is not said to be happy and the message that he sent out after a meeting with his supporters at Jasdan was that his supporters wanted him to 'think differently'.
Apart from Bavaliya, Rajyaguru and Bakshi, there have been other voices of discontent also that have been raised over the last few weeks. Leaders like Jivabhai Patel, Vikram Madam, Javed Hussain Pirzada have reportedly expressed their dissatisfaction at the state of affairs. A point to be noted here is that the top shots of the party who were once seen as chief minister probables ahead of the assembly polls and had lost are nowhere to be seen. These include leaders like Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Bharatsinh Solanki.
Party's Gujarat in-charge Rajiv Satav was scheduled to meet the state leadership at Gandhinagar on Thursday evening to find a solution to the crisis.
The question remains why this has happened. Senior political analyst from Rajkot Suresh Samani says,” There are many reasons for this. One, the infighting is in the DNA of the Congress and Gujarat is not exception. Two, there is no mass leader having a pan Gujarat image in the party. The last such leaders that the party had were Chimanbhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela. The fact is that nobody knows Amit Chavda in Saurashtra and nobody knew Bakshi till the time reported on him.”
He further pointed out, “The impact of horse trading trickling down to even the local bodies is now being felt. At many places the Congress has maximum number in these bodies but at the same time the local leaders are ambitious and want posts and designation. When they do not these, they are willing to defect to the other party for the lure of money. The game is that if there is no power coming your way why not get some money. The Congress' problem gets further complicated because it is facing both a leadership and economic crisis to manage such elements.”
There is already a buzz that the BJP has started making its moves ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and would encourage defections of influential Congress leaders. Sources said that it should not come as a surprise if the BJP offers to field Bavaliya from Surendranagar Lok Sabha seats. It is a major challenge for the Congress to keep its flock together.
Another perception on the present crisis plaguing the party is that the youth leadership coming to prominence after the Gujarat polls has not gone down well with the old guard. Gujarat now has a young state president in Amit Chavda an a young Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader in Paresh Dhanani.
“Ours is a party where people are not ready to give up their posts even after attaining the age of 80 years. They do not want to hand over the baton even to their own grandsons,” said a party insider.
Party spokesperson Manish Doshi claims, “The recent developments are just a fall out of the transition that is going in the party. The young leadership is settling down. The party has a youthful team holding the position of state president, CLP leader and even the All India Congress Committee in-charge for the state. The party will resolve the issues by taking the senior leaders into confidence. Their experience will be utilised for taking the party further.”
The party will have to act quick to meet the challenge of holding its flock together if it wants to put up a formidable challenge against the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. The party had fares dismally in the last parliamentary elections failing to win even a single of the 26 seats. Spruced by a good performance in the assembly polls, the party's top leadership is looking for a much better performance in 2019. But this will only happen if it does away with what is known as the 'Congress culture of infighting' and puts its house in order.