The defection of eight of its eleven MLAs in Goa has spooked the Congress so much that it is likely to adopt the consensus route, instead of a contest, to choose its next president.
It was Chief Spokesperson Jairam Ramesh who betrayed the nervousness within the party over the prospect of a no-holds-barred election. ``In the history of the Indian National Congress, generally we’ve selected people by consensus,’’ he said recently. This was what late Congress stalwart K Kamaraj advocated, he pointed out,``to talk to everybody and find a suitable consensus choice."
It looks like the party is now chickening out after boasting about its commitment to internal democracy through``free and fair polls.’
Amid fears that a contest would only batter an already fragile party that is bleeding senior leaders, MPs and MLAs at a frightening rate, top strategists are believed to be weighing two options.
One is to encourage calls through resolutions from the state units to leave the final decision to Sonia Gandhi, as has been the practice to fill every post ever since she became the Congress president in 1998. The other is, to evolve a consensus on one name and avoid a bitter campaign which could revive echoes of senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s parting shots at Rahul Gandhi for destroying the Congress.
Defection Wave Sweeps The Goa Congress
The Goa episode seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Although politics in this tiny, easygoing state divorced itself from ideology a long time ago, the recent departure of its MLAs has shaken the Congress which has now been reduced to just three members in the state assembly.
The unkindest cut of the latest defections was that it was led by Michael Lobo who had left the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) to join the Congress before last year’s assembly polls and Former Chief Minister Digambar Kamat who only recently swore that he would never leave the Congress.
So much for ideology and loyalty. Goa is fast surpassing the infamous ``Aya Ram Gaya Ram’’ era in Haryana in the late 1960s when MLAs were being traded like horses, eventually leading to the framing of the Anti-Defection Law in 1985.
It is ironic that a party like the BJP which pretends to be ideologically driven is happy to embrace leaders from parties like The Congress which seems to have lost its ideological moorings in its zeal to protect and preserve the dynasty.
Dynasty Politics Stand Challenged by Party Insiders
The move to avoid an election for the post of Congress president is part of a desperate survival effort while the BJP preys and swoops.
Statements from senior leaders like Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma and others suggested that they were gearing up to challenge the ``official’’ candidate backed by the Gandhi family.
A contest would inevitably deepen fault lines in the party and lead to further splintering. Worse, there are fears that the Gandhis, particularly Rahul, may be targeted in the course of a bitter campaign.
There are already far too many doubts about his seriousness of purpose, his leadership style and his political skills. The last thing the family wants is more debate and more questions on these issues.
Consensus Or Contest: Which Scale Will Weigh Heavier?
It is widely believed that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have settled on Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as their preferred choice for Congress president. In fact, before Sonia Gandhi left for Italy to be with her mother before she passed away, she had met Gehlot and sounded him out.
He is a non-controversial choice and it is possible that a consensus may be evolved on his name, thus evading the dreaded contest. However, the question of his successor has not been resolved yet.
Gehlot obviously wants his loyalist to be the next Rajasthan chief minister. However, Priyanka Gandhi is believed to be rooting for Sachin Pilot. Till that issue is resolved satisfactorily, the Gandhis and their loyalists cannot even begin the process of getting a consensus on Gehlot.
Time is running out. As per the announced schedule, the election will be notified on September 22, the last date for filing nominations is September 30 and polling date is October 17.
The Congress will have to decide before that whether to play it safe by opting for the consensus route or whether it has the stomach to follow the democratic way and hold an election.
(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)