Is Congress harming itself?
The gross mishandling of the situation in Uttrakhand by the Congress leadership has further strengthened the belief that the party continues to be clueless about ground realities despite getting a drubbing in the recent assembly elections. Regardless of the outcome of this tussle within the state unit and whether dissident leader and Union minister Harish Rawat remains with the Congress or not, the developments in the hill state have left the political class wondering on the reason for appointing Vijay Bahuguna as the chief minister.
While it is the prerogative of any party to do what it wants to, but in this case where the Congress was ahead of the BJP by merely a single seat, there is every reason to know what prompted the Congress leadership to choose a member of Parliament instead of a MLA to head the government. And even if Bahuguna was to continue as the CM, the party in this hostile atmosphere will have to face two elections—one for Tehri Garhwal, which the new CM represents in the Lok Sabha, and the one from where he will have to seek an election to the Assembly. In the by election there is every possibility that Bahuguna’s own cousin and former chief minister BC Khanduri maybe asked by the BJP to contest against him. In other words, the party has taken a risk where there was no need to take one.
A thought that is crossing the minds of many is that if the central leadership was hell bent upon denying Harish Rawat the opportunity to lead his state, the natural course left to it would have been to pick either Yashpal Arya, a dalit and PCC chief who is amongst the victorious candidates or HS Rawat, the leader of opposition in the last assembly or a woman, Indira Hardesh who has won by a very big margin. The decision to appoint Bahuguna has divided the party and even if all the rebel MLAs are made to see reason, the revolt has left the Congress leadership red faced.
It is also the first time, a section of the party has challenged its high command’s decision. The political interpretation of this is that the leadership’s authority was getting eroded and if corrective measures were not taken, further erosion could follow.
What should be most disturbing is that the revolt is led by a middle level leader and not a top one. This middle level leader has shown that majority of those who won were with him and not with the one chosen by the high command. Harish Rawat has come up in the party from its rank and file and has been a true grass roots man. He has headed the Sewa Dal and has built the party in Uttarakhand. The MLAs who supported him know that he may not be in any position to give them anything at this stage but the fact that they have chosen him over the high command shows that these MLAs also perhaps know that the high command also cannot give them anything. So between the two nothings, it was better to side with the one who has been by their side during the last so many years.
The Congress it seems is not ready to learn any lessons from the assembly results and if a situation of instability has arisen, the party has itself to blame for it. There are many challenges, which are coming up in the next couple of months including the Union Budget and the elections of the President and vice president of the country. Before that, the term of K Rehman Khan, the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha is coming to an end by April 2 and the party may have to face an election for getting the new deputy chairman elected. The Congress on its own does not have the strength and it is possible that the next presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha is from outside the UPA fold. It may thus be for the first time, the UPA may have somebody other than its own as a presiding officer and this trend could continue even for the post of the vice president who is also the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
The indication of the way the Congress leadership is thinking would certainly get reflected in the selection of the party’s Rajya Sabha nominees before March 19th, the last date of filing nominations. It is to be seen whether those who had come from other parties will continue to get preference over the party’s own home grown soldiers. It is also a subject matter of speculation that a big party re-shuffle is on cards and may see many heads roll to make way for new faces. The Congress has no option but to reinvent itself if it has to cope with new challenges.