Ashis Biswas. Despite the present convulsions among its leaders, there is as yet no visible end to the travails of the Indian National Congress(INC), post 2014.
There are major reasons for the INC’s inner turmoil. In the short term there is the problem of the Gandhis clinging on to party leadership, which now threatens to split the century-old organisation.
In the longer term, the continuing decline of the INC is the price it is paying for following opportunistic policies since the days of Mrs Indira Gandhi.
The INC is yet to discard its fondness for working out unprincipled accommodations with regional parties.
This is especially true for the Eastern states of Bengal and Assam .
For the moment, the imminent threat to the Gandhis’ throne has been staved off by the promise of inner party elections and more functional autonomy at lower levels.
But the dissenters are not in a relenting mood.
At her last meeting with some opposition leaders, Mrs Sonia Gandhi made it a point to let Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee take charge for a while.
Ms Banerjee, somewhat isolated in the national political arena these days, is a confirmed sucker for such vacuous symbolism .
Reacting as expected , she took the bit between her teeth and called for an immediate anti BJP agitation in the context of coming round of elections.
Clearly,such an agitation now should help the Gandhis retain their power within the INC for the time being ,as the focus will shift to the larger country-wide fight against the BJP.
She won some support from the Shiv Sena , whose leaders may or may not be aware of the subtle games that go on between the INC and the Trinamool Congress(TMC).
INC top brass was keen to an understanding with the TMC
According to TMC sources , there was a background to these developments.
Apparently the INC top brass was keen to conclude an understanding with the TMC in Bengal prior to the 2021 Bengal Assembly elections .
The parties, it has been suggested from Delhi, should fight the polls on the basis of a seat adjustment.
The state Congress will leave the lion’s share of the 294 seats for the TMC to contest.
In return, for the LS polls in 2024, the TMC would return the favour and leave a generous number of seats for the INC to fight, to help its nation-wide fight against the BJP.
‘This is old wine in a new bottle,’ admits a TMC leader ,describing the move as a re-run of the late Indira Gandhi’s similar arrangements with major Tamil parties in Tamil Nadu in the past.
In Assam, the INC now finds nothing wrong in forging an alliance with its earlier bête noire, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Mr Badruddin Ajmal, MP.
Such reports do not enthuse the Bengal wing of the INC. Since 2011, the state Congress had been brutally bludgeoned into submission by the ruling TMC as it crushed all opposition parties ruthlessly, using either its money power or force (read the police).
Senior Congress leaders including ex Ministers and MLAs joined the TMC , lamenting the aimlessness within their old party.
Those who refused to defect were as usually brutally beaten up, or arrested by the police when they tried to protest.
Gandhi were angry with the TMC’s tactics
The central INC leadership was aware of this. Both Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi were angry with the TMC’s tactics, but could do little.
Their own prospects had not really improved by winning 44 seats in 2014 and 52 in 2019.
The entire opposition was thoroughly demoralised by the BJP’S 2019 Lok Sabha polls sweep.
Surprisingly, even though the BJP has fared miserably at the centre in terms of its governance whether in the economic or foreign affairs — long before the Covid 19 pandemic began, the economy had been facing strong headwinds —the opposition could not capitalize on this.
The general performance of governments in the states where the opposition ruled was hardly any better.
Now that things have hit rock bottom, with the country’s GDP about to be shaved off by nearly 24% on the short term, no wonder the opposition sniffs blood ,itching for a fight.
Unfortunately, the largest opposition party, the INC is yet to evolve any sort of response to the challenge that confronts it, if what happened at the CWC meeting are any indication.
The party is still wedded to its old hoary line of aligning itself with strong regional parties at the state level, playing second fiddle if necessary, in East India.
In return, a Congress-ruled centre would allow corruption or highhandedness among regional party leaders ruling the states, so long as they supported the INC .
True, parties like the SP and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh and the RJD in Bihar did not play by the rules.
They offered miserable seat sharing deals to the Congress and sought to strike root in other states.
But thanks to the non- interference from the centre, local leaders acquired larger than life identities, assets and lifestyles.
the sad message that went out
Eventually their corruption proved costly for the SP, the BSP and the RJD which suited the INC, not to mention the BJP admirably.
But the sad message that went out was that so desperate the Congress was for power and comfort in Delhi, that they were willing to write off the states and the crores of people who happened to live there!
And what is India without its states ?
Whatever his other failings might have been the late Jawaharlal Nehru was not the architect such a policy. The discredit goes to Indira Gandhi.
Angered by the persistence of voters in Bengal not to vote for the Congress but to support the Left instead, she once shocked the late state Congress leader Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Choudhury, saying.’I can win without West Bengal.’
She proved correct, up to a point . But by the late sixties, the signs were ominous .
Her party was out of power in not just Bengal but in many other states in 1967 !
True, the first non- Congress state governments did not last long.
But they succeeded in breaching the hitherto impregnable ramparts of the ruling party.
But, now the things are changed
Things would never be the same again. People now realized they could change their rulers by voting against them.
Strangely enough ,there was no mention of how the next elections round the corner in Bengal, Bihar and Assam would or should be fought , according to media reports.
Apparently, even the dissidents see nothing wrong in their party , which had earlier ruled in all three states for years, now talking about contesting the polls in partnership/alliance.
For the INC in Bengal, the choice would be between aligning with the Left and the TMC, against a resurgent BJP.
Says one observer,’Why don’t they learn from the BJP’s experience in Assam or Bengal ? For years they won only a handful of votes. But they never sought help from others , nor gave up their activities. And now look at the results in 2019-20 ! Whether it is the INC leaders or dissidents who criticise them, they must appreciate that there is no alternative to hard work. Why not make a beginning from the three Eastern states which together send 96 MPs to Parliament ?’
(Ashis Biswas is News Editor at the Easternlink)