The Congress, eventually, did what it should have done in the first place to stem the disaffection within its Arunachal Pradesh unit, i.e. remove Nabam Tuki from chief ministership. But the Congress is not known to heed voices of discontent within its ranks. Rather, what the party is known for is its top-down hierarchical organisational structure, strictly controlled from Delhi. It is known to practice a durbari culture that has time and again propelled the party to slight regional leaders and pay a high electoral price for such neglect.
Despite these steep – and repeatedly felt – political costs, the Congress however continues to solely depend on the Gandhi family and its loyalists to bail the party out from crises. And crisis is what now largely defines the Congress party – whether in the form of periodic revelations of scams suggesting the direct or indirect involvement of top party leaders, or rebellions frequently breaking out in the party’s regional units.
Following Arunachal Pradesh’s change of leadership, The Indian Express report on Sunday said: “The Congress on Saturday pulled off a coup in Arunachal Pradesh bringing the rebels back into its fold, six months after they deserted the party under the leadership of Kalikho Pul – the Nabam Tuki government fell as a consequence.”
The eleventh hour leadership change indeed carried the imprint of a desperate face-saver, though the Congress maintained that it had been engaged in a dialogue with the rebel leaders for over a month. However, why the party bosses, particularly the high command at 10 Janpath, did not open a line of communication even earlier is a question that is still unanswered. A timely intervention by the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi perhaps could have made stymied the BJP’s plans of engineering defections and using them to serve its political ambitions in the North East.
It is true that this time around the last-minute negotiations with Tuki and the rebels have extricated the Congress from the potential embarrassment it could have faced on the floor of the House in case of a floor test. But serious questions about the Congress’ arrogant organisational culture will continue to haunt it in the weeks and months to come. Has the party learnt any valuable lessons from the recent crises in Arunachal Pradesh, and before that, in Uttarakhand? So far, the answer seems to be in the negative.
In fact, it seems to have become a practice in the Congress to careen from one crisis to another – especially in the states. The high command’s lack of interest in nurturing home-grown regional leaders has already cost the party dearly. Recall in this context the party’s failure, in Assam, to retain within its fold the effective former minister and state Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma (who joined the BJP.) His departure was significant to the party’s subsequent electoral loss in the recently concluded elections in May. However notwithstanding the accumulated costs of ignoring grievances of state leaders, the Congress continues on a path of self-destruction.
Following its disastrous performance in the last Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2012, the Congress should have used the next five-years to build up local leadership in the state. Instead the party is now projecting the thrice-elected former Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, as its Chief Ministerial face in next year’s Assembly elections. This tendency to ignore party sentiments on the ground holds true in most states for the Congress. Contrast this with the BJP’s strategy and its electoral success – a large part of which can be attributed to the emergence of powerful state leaders who are nurtured by the party’s central leadership. While inner-party dissension and the rise of factions are inevitable corollaries of any organisation, ignoring them for a prolonged period of time, can only damage a political party: a fact that the fate of the Congress is making apparent to us today.
Even in the other states of the North East, the Congress is in trouble. A section of Congress legislators and leaders in Meghalaya believe that the present three-term Chief Minister Mukul Sangma should be replaced with a new face before the state heads into Assembly polls in 2018. The Congress high command also had to stave off a crisis in Manipur recently when a section of disgruntled legislators revolted against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
The common complaint cutting across various disaffected factions relates to the party leadership’s indifference. Usually – if we follow the general pattern – the Congress lets intra-party disquiet simmer and escalate into a full-blown rebellion before getting into crisis management mode. Unfortunately, in our current political context, this approach is simply not enough to revive a party on the brink of irrelevance.