The Congress high command appears to be in a state of confusion. It is evident that there is no clarity on the preparations for next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. The grand old party has not learnt from its mistakes and continues to emit wrong signals which do not seem to inspire the diminishing number of its workers who are flocking to other parties. Many Congressmen had shifted their loyalty to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam after Himanta Biswa Sharma got a raw deal from the top leadership and chose to opt for greener pastures elsewhere. Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh, in his interview to a news channel, has mentioned that if Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Sharma in Assam had been adequately handled and used, the party would have been in power in these two states as well. Amarinder has not shied away from telling his leadership that they should not delay in announcing his name as the chief ministerial face of the campaign. It is obvious that the direct implication of not declaring him as the party mascot will have its own consequences when the polls take place.
Captain Amarinder Singh is undoubtedly the tallest opposition leader in Punjab, who is attempting to keep the Congress in the contest given that the Aam Aadmi Partty (AAP) has made deep inroads in the rural areas and is emerging as the main challenger to the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine. Therefore, it is in the interest of the high command that they should keep him happy and give him sufficient powers to choose the candidates for the Assembly elections. The last two times, he got the blame for the defeat, but it is no secret that many top leaders at the Centre had interfered in the candidate selection. Many aspirants got the nod from the unofficial quotas of the central leaders, thereby jeopardising the chances of winning.
Amarinder Singh has the advantage of banking on the experience of Ambika Soni, who is the campaign committee chairperson, besides being an old Punjab hand. Together they can form a formidable team. However, undue interference from the central leadership can cause problems that could hamper the chances of a comeback. It is unfortunate that a competent and seasoned person like Kamal Nath opted out of the responsibility entrusted to him for overseeing the state. He is amongst the best organisers in the party and is someone who could have delivered.
Similarly in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has no infrastructure, it is doing nothing substantial to revive itself. Priyanka Gandhi is certainly a big name, but her skills should be used not for resuscitating the party from a hopeless situation in the state, but later on in 2019 when the national battle takes place. No Gandhi has ever delved in state politics and the aura of Priyanka should be preserved for a later stage. There has been wide speculation about Sheila Dikshit playing a major role in either Punjab or UP. If that happens it would merely show that the leadership wanted to play up Dikshit in order to draw some media mileage.
Dikshit may have been in office for 15 years, but left the Delhi Congress in pathetic state. She did not groom any leader in the capital other than her son and had the dubious distinction of forfeiting her deposit while being the Chief Minister in a head on contest with Arvind Kejriwal in December 2013. She has lost thrice from UP in the Lok Sabha elections of 1989, 1991 and 1996, before losing to Lal Bihari Tewari of the BJP in the Parliamentary elections of 1998 from East Delhi. The short point is that she has never been a mass leader and was appointed Chief Minister of Delhi primarily because Makhan Lal Fotedar and the late Arjun Singh argued her case forcefully before a reluctant Sonia Gandhi, who finally relented and gave her approval. She has charges of corruption against her and though she has close connections with the first family, they are not enough to make the 79-year-old leader charismatic enough to be the Congress mascot in either of the two states.
What the Congress needs is an overhaul where many of the past leaders get an honourable burial. They have done their duty for the party and have also contributed to its present state in the country, though Rahul Gandhi is made the fall guy each time. The alienation of the party workers is on account of many of the senior leaders who were totally inaccessible and to keep themselves secure sacrificed many talented and gifted party men by misguiding the high command. These very people are scared of Rahul’s emergence as the party chief as they fear that their power would be curtailed and their wings would be clipped. That is exactly what is needed if the workers have to be brought back.
Congress is indeed going through difficult times and Uttar Pradesh seems to be a lost case even before the poll process has started. The party influence even in Rae Bareli and Amethi is on the decline, though Priyanka is trying to keep the flock intact in at least these two places. The Congress should be mentally prepared for a drubbing in UP and many surprises elsewhere. It has to become realistic to be a player in the political game. Between us.