Will Rahul’s warning end factionalism in Congress?

Congress vice President Rahul Gandhi has warned Congressmen that he would come down with a heavy hand if he finds party activists indulging in factionalism. Addressing workers at the Delhi Pradesh Congress headquarters, he went on to state that he was not soft like his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and shall therefore not tolerate indiscipline.

Rahul’s warning is being viewed very cautiously in political circles and many believe that it was aimed at sorting out differences in the Delhi Congress so that the party faces the assembly elections in a united manner later this year.

However, it is an accepted fact that differences and factions have always existed in the Congress from the very beginning and the High Command has always been aware of these things. In fact, the High Command often uses factionalism to assert its authority and keeps everyone on tender hooks. For example if Bhupinder Singh Hooda is the Chief Minister, many leaders not on the same page as him such as Birender Singh, Kumari Selja and Kiran Chowdhury often get encouraged by top leaders to oppose him. In Punjab, when Amarinder Singh was the Pradesh Chief, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Pratap Singh Bajwa and Jagmit Singh Brar continued to pursue their own politics. If Ashok Gehlot is the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, there is CP Joshi to balance him. Newly appointed CMs of Himachal and Karnataka have their share of opposition within their own party.

Therefore, the question is how will Rahul end factionalism. Party veterans recall that during Indira Gandhi’s early years as Prime Minister, two camps—the Nehru Forum and the Socialist Forum co existed. They would often contest elections for the working committee and it was in a way a part of party’s culture. However, it is true that for many years, the Working Committee members are nominated by the party president and are no longer elected as they were earlier. In a way, inner democracy has decreased tremendously and small time leaders who have made it big due to proximity with some members of party president’s coterie call the shots and influence the course of politics. Rahul thus has to be aware that factionalism gets promoted due to the vested interests within his own party and it is important that he should try and identify natural leaders and empower them instead of the party being harmed by activists who are acting at the behest of these vested interests.

Rahul may find his mother to be soft but as a leader Sonia Gandhi has acted firmly against many of her colleagues and not allowed them to question her authority. When Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar challenged her credentials, she did not hesitate in throwing them out of the Congress. It is another thing that they are now a part of her coalition at the Centre and in Maharashtra.

Rahul’s intentions are noble and he wishes to improve the functioning of his party. But he has to realise that he will have to first eliminate vested interests if he wishes to assert his supremacy in the near future. To begin with, he must take a call whether there are going to be changes in Delhi before the assembly and possibly the Parliamentary elections. Either way this should be conveyed to the cadres without any further delay. It is virtually impossible to end factionalism in any political party and particularly the Congress.

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