India’s grand old party and the country's principal opposition — Congress — is in a critical situation. Ever since the party lost the second general elections on the trot to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi, it is in the throes of an existential crisis.
Indulge me dear readers of SWAT analysis, as I compare it to a Shakespearean tragedy. Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, is a Hamlet like figure, undecided whether to return as Congress president or step aside. To be or not to be — that is the question.
All of the Gandhi family is now in politics, something not witnessed in the Congress history. Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, is holding fort till Rahul returns. RG, as he is referred to within the Congress, is calling all the shots, yet not shouldering the responsibility of the office.
Sources close to RG tell me that for him it an ideological battle against the Sangh Parivar and a visceral personal battle against Modi, who has given no quarter in his personalised battle against the family. The Gandhis had their elite Special Protection Group (SPG) security cover also removed.
Earlier governments had made it a life long security cover, considering the history of assassinations in the illustrious Gandhi family (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi). The family is now protected by a Central Police Organisation (CPO).
While Gandhi has been consistent in his political attacks on the popular Prime Minister, his leaders are mostly reluctant to follow him and make personal jibes.
Enter the Gandhis
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who apparently joined politics to reclaim Uttar Pradesh (UP) for the Congress, remains a helicopter politician. Elections are barely five months away in the electorally important UP.
Now consider this: the Gandhi siblings dabbled in Punjab — the only state the Congress governs in North India — and have made life very uncomfortable for Captain Amarinder Singh, the Chief Minister (CM), by insisting on making the maverick former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu the state chief.
Sidhu somersaulted to the Congress from the BJP barely five years ago and yet despite his public broadsides against the Captain, can do no wrong in the eyes of the siblings.
Manish Tiwari, former minister took a dig at this after a Sidhu video surfaced when he is threatening the Congress High Command (read the Gandhi family). Tiwari said Sidhu could get away with anything.
Harish Rawat, Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab, wants to quit his charge, fed up with the daily Sidhu soap opera.
The strategy — if it can be called that — behind Sidhu’s appointment is to ensure that anti-incumbency sticks to Amarinder Singh and does not taint the Congress party. Considering Singh is the Congress’s tallest leader in Punjab and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are personally loyal to him, it appears to be a rather ridiculous plan.
Yet that did not stop Sidhu from showcasing rebel MLAs and attacking Singh, who hit back with parading loyal MLAs as a dinner. You are left wondering if the elections due in months will be Sidhu versus Singh or the opposition.
The Delhi Durbar
Expect a lot of public bloodletting at the time of ticket distribution. Since Sidhu is backed by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — or PVG — as she is called in the Congress, leaders are quiet.
If this was not enough, RG triggered a leadership crisis in Chattisgarh by trying to change popular Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel with his arch rival T S Singh Deo.
Apparently a promise had been made to rotate the CM post. All factions rushed to Delhi and spent hours closeted with RG while the BJP watched in glee. Baghel has prevailed for now but, has been publicly unsettled and Deo has made his ambition to be “captain of the team” public.
“It’s not like the Congress is in government in so many states yet the Gandhi family behaves as imperiously as Mrs (Indira) Gandhi once did,” says a senior Congress leader.
If Punjab and Chattisgarh weren’t enough, Rajasthan is a crisis which will soon come to boil as Sachin Pilot’s patience runs out.
The cabinet reshuffle, he was promised, which would have seen his loyalists accommodated has been postponed three times and now Ashok Gehlot, CM, is recovering from a heart procedure. so any reshuffle is indefinitely postponed.
The UP elections are critical to make or break political fortunes. The BJP is already preparing on a war footing as are the regional parties — Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party — but the Congress’ preparations are underwhelming as it continues to create new problems for itself.