Sonia Gandhi’s team continues to exercise authority and controls decision making.
The Congress, which is still dominated by former AICC president Sonia Gandhi, appears to have lost further ground in the national capital following the landmark Supreme Court ruling, which clearly demarcated the areas of operations for both the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led dispensation at the Centre. The dilemma before the Congress is that if it criticises the BJP for usurping the powers of the elected government it is seen as the “B” team of the AAP, and if it lashes out at the city government, it finds itself in the embarrassing position of being on the same side as the saffron brigade. Either way, it is a zero sum game and after losing out badly in all elections since December 2013, the Congress, which administered Delhi for 15 long years, finds itself on the electoral fringe in the national capital, with little chance of making a comeback.
The past few polls, ranging from Parliament to the Assembly and the civic bodies, have demonstrated that much of the disillusioned cadre of the party, as well as its core support base, has gravitated towards AAP, given that prominent Congress nominees have even forfeited their deposits. Therefore, when its most well-known face, Sheila Dikshit bats on TV channels for the party, it brings back memories of how after being in power for three terms, she acquired the dubious distinction of being trounced with a margin of over 26,500 votes by Arvind Kejriwal from the New Delhi Assembly constituency. Party seniors concede that while she was in control of the government, the Congress organisation was neglected to the point of irrelevance, due to her over-reliance on both the bureaucracy as well as the group of loyalists surrounding her.
Since the 2013 polls, the Congress has been unable to strike a chord with the Delhi electorate. Therefore, the voters are left with no alternative but to opt for either AAP or the BJP. Ironically, while the two principal opponents have been trying to out-manoeuvre each other over who exercises control over Delhi, their common objective is essentially similar—to create a Congress-mukt (Congress-free) metropolis. It is evident that they have been successful in doing so, particularly in the absence of any clear plan or a well-defined strategy from the Congress.
The Apex Court verdict has specifically spelt out areas that come under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government, while emphasising that as per the Constitutional provisions, the Centre alone will have a say in matters relating to land, police, and law and order. The reluctance on the part of the Lieutenant Governor to give up on the Services portfolio is primarily because the Centre does not want the AAP to exercise authority over IAS officers and issues pertaining to their postings and transfers. The AAP’s plea is that all areas which fell under Sheila Dikshit’s purview should be restored to the present government, without comprehending that the former CM shared a close and cordial working relationship with the BJP government at the Centre to begin with and had an exceptional rapport with senior leaders—Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, besides the then Lt. Governor, Vijai Kapoor.
In fact, her critics often accused her of being hand-in-glove with the BJP, which never put up a strong candidate to oppose her throughout her long tenure, since it suited its top leadership to deal with her rather than making endless efforts to resolve the perpetual conflict between supporters of Madan Lal Khurana on one hand, and those of Sahib Singh Verma on the other. In 2003, when the BJP lost to the Congress in the Assembly polls, its central leadership decided to shift Khurana from Delhi, as he would have been the natural choice to be the Leader of the Opposition given his immense popularity amongst the people as well as the bureaucracy. Khurana was sent to Rajasthan as Governor, much against his wishes, and his many supporters, at the time alleged, that it was done deliberately. The inbuilt insinuation was that Vajpayee-Advani wanted to help Dikshit. Now whether this was true or not, is something that shall always remain a subject of speculation.
The Congress scenario in Delhi is as critical as it is in the rest of the country. Rahul Gandhi, as the Congress president, is yet to assert himself, given his propensity of continuing to lean towards his predecessor Sonia Gandhi for assistance and guidance on vital issues. The impression within the party circles is that Sonia Gandhi’s team continues to exercise authority and controls decision making. The example being cited in party circles is that during the Rajya Sabha elections a few months ago, the Congress president had asked one of the selected nominees who called to thank him, whether his name had been officially announced. Rahul was obviously unaware that the list had already been declared. His own recommendation of electing Sam Pitroda to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka was rejected by the then Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah. Similarly, while deciding on names for the expansion of the Punjab Cabinet, Rahul had to accept Sonia Gandhi’s advice in clearing the candidacy of a four-time MLA whose name figured on the Chief Minister’s list, though it had been initially turned down.
The primary concern of the cadres is that there is lack of a fresh approach in decision-making, and there appears to be little urgency in determining the course and strategy of the party. As an illustration, in Haryana, the party is divided in multiple camps. In Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh, who had a major say in state issues, is distinctly in a defiant mood. One time ally, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, has ditched the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, and the high command is yet to make up its mind on whether to go to polls in Rajasthan with Ashok Gehlot or Sachin Pilot as the spearhead. In Maharashtra, the leadership is disgruntled and in Karnataka, the appointment of Dinesh Gundu Rao as the Pradesh Congress Committee chief has not gone down well with the workers.
Delhi, which was once the stronghold of the party, is dissected vertically amongst supporters of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president, Ajay Maken and Dikshit, with senior leaders like Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Jai Prakash Aggarwal uncertain about whatever is left of their political future. There is absolute confusion in the West Bengal unit, whose chief is against a tie-up with Mamata Banerjee, while in Assam the Congress is yet to recover from its drubbing in the Assembly elections.
In Jammu and Kashmir, ambiguity regarding the party’s stand has complicated matters with reports that Sonia Gandhi loyalists in Delhi were working on bringing about a truce between the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) so as to form an elected government minus the BJP. In short, the position of the party throughout the country is, more or less, like its condition in Delhi and the inability of the Congress president to give crystal clear directions could have acute political implications. Former Delhi strongman, H.K.L. Bhagat used to say that Delhi is mini India, and the performance of the Congress in the capital, is in fact, a reflection of its state elsewhere in the country. If that is the case, there will be many more hurdles Rahul Gandhi and his team will have to cross, prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.