Discomfiture and disarray in Congress

DNA New Delhi, India Sep 01, 2019, 03.08 PM(IST) Written By: Makarand R Paranjape

Sonia Gandhi (L), Rahul Gandhi (R). Photograph:( DNA )

Story highlights

The Congress is now a divided house. Not only does it lack credible leadership, but a plan of action

What is happening to India’s oldest political formation, the Indian National Congress? Not only is it apparently headless but also in complete disarray. While Sonia Gandhi has reluctantly reassumed its reigns as its interim acting president, its leadership crisis is far from over. In the meanwhile, its top leaders such as P Chidambaram and, now, Karnataka’s DK Shivakumar, are in serious legal trouble. The former, despite his formidable financial and political clout, not to speak of legendry legal acumen, has spent days in detention. More recently, Shivakumar is facing the heat from the Enforcement Directorate, with the Karnataka High Court refusing to grant him protection from arrest. 

Earlier in the week, Rahul Gandhi scored another self-goal. After his failed visit to Srinagar on August 24, when he was not allowed to leave the airport and forced to return politically empty-handed, Gandhi tweeted against the government for unleashing draconian measures and brute force on the people of our newest Union Territory. “Things in Jammu and Kashmir are going very wrong,” Gandhi said, “There are reports of violence. There are reports of people dying in Jammu and Kashmir.” 

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, was quick to take advantage of Gandhi’s alarmist remarks, quite in consonance with its own strategy to internationalise the Kashmir issue. In her letter to officials of the United Nations, Mazari quoted Gandhi’s comment that people were dying in J&K. Attacked by senior BJP ministers, Gandhi had to hastily beat a retreat by calling out Pakistan as a terror-sponsoring state on social media: “I disagree with this government on many issues,” he tweeted, “But, let me make this absolutely clear: Kashmir is India’s internal issue and there is no room for Pakistan or any other foreign country to interfere in it… There is violence in Jammu & Kashmir. There is violence because it is instigated and supported by Pakistan which is known to be the prime supporter of terrorism across the world.” 

Randeep Singh Surjewala, Congress communications chief, had to jump in to defend his former party president. Accusing Pakistan of mischievously trying to use Gandhi to peddle a “pack of lies”, he said, “Let no one in the world be in doubt that Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were, are and shall always remain integral parts of India. No amount of diabolical deception by Pakistan shall change this truth.” But the damage was done. Information and Broadcasting Minister and BJP political veteran, Prakash Javadekar accused Gandhi of helping Pakistan against India on the international stage. He rightly pointed out that Gandhi had been forced to make “a complete U-turn…due to circumstances and public pressure”. Earlier, during the 2019 election campaign, Gandhi had also failed to tarnish Modi’s incorruptible image with his “chowkidar chor hai” campaign.

It seems from all this that Jairam Ramesh certainly has a point. Demonising Narendra Modi isn’t helping the Congress. Rather, it shows the deep division, bordering on disarray, that afflicts India’s oldest political party. This was evident in the manner in which its high-profile and loquacious leader, three-times Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, was targeted by his own state leadership. Pulled up by the Kerala Congress president, Mullapally Ramachandran, he was issued a show-cause notice. 

The “original sinner”, as a report dubbed him, was not Tharoor, but Ramesh. The latter’s comments at a book launch in the national capital were also supported by party spokesman and lawyer, Abhishek Manu Singhvi. But only Tharoor was targeted. It was the following remark that probably earned Tharoor his party’s ire: “As you know, I have argued for six years now that Narendra Modi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticism and whenever he errs. I welcome others in Opposition coming around to a view for which I was excoriated at the time.” Tharoor was forced to clarify that he was no admirer of Modi and the Kerala Congress had to be “satisfied” with his explanation. The party only earned itself some needless embarrassment and discomfiture in the process.

After the Modi Sarkar’s surgical strike against Article 370, several Congress leaders came out in support of the government. These included Jyotraditya Scindia, Deepender Hooda, RPN Singh and Jitin Prasada, in addition to the son of the former Maharaja of Kashmir and first regent of the state, Dr Karan Singh. Bhuvaneshwar Kalita, the Congress chief whip, went to the extent of resigning. With considerable difficulty, if not force, the CWC eventually passed a resolution opposing the government’s abrogation of Article 370’s key provisions. The Congress is now a divided house. Not only does it lack credible leadership, but a plan of action. As if this were not bad enough, it has also shown itself utterly unsuccessful in denting, leave alone destroying, Narendra Modi’s popularity and appeal.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)