Congress woes ‘Chintin Shivir’ and exiting leaders

Anil Anand
Young patidar leader, Hardik Patel has quit Congress just after the Udaipur ‘Chintin Shivir’ of the party and ahead of Gujarat assembly elections later this year. It has not come as a surprise as the mercurial youth leader, who shot to fame due to his active association with his community patidar or Patel related agitations in the state. Of late he has been dropping hints showing his inclination towards the BJP the party which he had been vehemently opposing for ill-treating the patidar community.
Mr Patel was hand-picked by the former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi and straightway appointed as one of the working presidents in Gujarat Congress. Was Mr Patel expecting even bigger role without giving an account of his tenure as the working chief?
Certainly, Mr Patel seems to be a young man in a hurry. Perhaps sensing that the faction ridden Congress has an uphill task to perform in the coming assembly elections, he in all likelihood is headed towards greener pastures.
His exit, whatever are Mr Patel’s personal compulsions, cannot be dissociated from the Udaipur jamboree and has to be viewed in the context of plethora of maladies that have afflicted the over a century old party. The most important being the old versus the young conflict which has threatened to rupture the party without causing a virtual split.
Is Mr Patel’s exit an off-shoot of this ongoing battle which the ‘Chintin Shivir’ desperately tried to address and ultimately came out with a formula to assign 50 per cent of all posts from AICC down to block levels to persons aged 50 or below? The answer is both in yes and no. Yes, because the over-ambitious and energetic patidar leader has been the target of the Gujarat Congress’s established leader from the day he joined the party despite rightly being made the working president by Mr Gandhi notwithstanding the outsider tag that the old guard lost no time in affixing on his sleeves. No, because despite holding the post of working president he had already made up his mind for a different course.
The problem with leaders such as Mr Patil and a more mercurial Navjot Singh Siddhu, former Punjab Congress president, is that they are driven more by their individual ambitions and self-set goals, over-ridden by a sense of self-aggrandisement. They showed no inclination towards team spirit. On lighter vein both these leaders were following the policy of self-aggrandisement as espoused by veteran and not so veteran leaders of the Congress both at the Centre as well as in the states.
To be fair to the strategists behind the ‘Chintin Shivir’, the occasion was used to lay a roadmap to rejuvenate the organisation to face the future challenges. The jury is already out that not enough has been done in this context and that more decisions of far-reaching consequences could have been take. And that is a fair observation.
One strong impression that has gained ground after the conclusion of the ‘Chintan Shivir’ is that the high command (read the Gandhi family) seemed more constrained and somewhere looked wilting under the pressure of the rebel Group 23 leaders with Ghulam Nabi Azad being its leader. The high command also looked more focused on buying peace with this group particularly with the ilk of Mr Azad, former Haryana chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former deputy leader in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, and the other issues were made to look like secondary.
The high command’s entire effort has been guided by ensuring a smooth drive down the track to August elections to have a new president in place. The fact that the high command has heavily fallen back on the old guard of the rebel variety for a smooth sailing also explains the prevailing state of affairs in the party.
The two pronged-strategy of the high command behind striking a reconciliatory tone with the rebels, despite the latter’s demand for a ‘Chintin Shivir’ having been accepted, was to ensure that the Udaipur event itself went through without any hitch and that the party presented a united look. It was so because certain quarters were predicting a stormy session with the possibility of the rebels upping the ante. Secondly, the urgency for them, as it seems, was to ensure a smooth process for the election of a new president.
Both these contexts are directly related to first, Gandhi family maintaining their hold on the party and secondly, for which there is a strong possibility, see the installation of Rahul Gandhi as the new president without and hitch or opposition. Will the rebel Group 23 be in any position to challenge the high command after their systematic rehabilitation that will see more of the veteran leaders getting traction within or outside the organisation?
As Congress can win at least seven seats in the next round of Rajya Sabha elections and there are already strong hints that at least two from the Group 23 including Mr Azad will be favoured with an Upper House seat. Mr Hooda already had his way in Haryana with first his son being brought to Rajya Sabha and lately managing the state Congress chief’s post for one of his trusted aides. The Haryana model is soon to be replicated in Jammu and Kashmir where either Mr Azad himself or his nominee could be installed as the Union Territory chief.
That itself explains the strategy at work which is more to please the individual leaders than laying a broader plan for the overall rejuvenation of the party. Fact of the matter is that this reconciliation process that had started a few months back with backdoor channels on work was more dominant in Udaipur than any other issue.
One strong outcome of the Udaipur session that it has to some extent managed to engage the mind of the party rank file with the unveiling of the new organisation building organisation as they were not only bewildered but in a confused state of mind due to total inaction at the top. Of particular significance has been the idea of five-year term for all posts excluding the Congress president which has electrified the rank and file more than anything else as all those, in the AICC and states, clinging on to posts for as long as 20 years will now have to go.
The meet has brought into sharp focus the political and economic agenda that the party wishes to pursue as part of its rejuvenation process.
It is erroneous on the part of those who were wishing the ‘Chintin Shivir’ will resolve the current leadership issue. This could not have happened when the organisational elections are already in process that will culminate with the election of a new president in two months from now.
The meet has laid the broader counters of the much delayed reforms process. However, the challenge this around will be on how these programmes and policies are implemented on ground brushing aside the old strategy of the party to keep all such recommendations under key and lock.