Factionalism, infighting in Madhya Pradesh Congress over state president' post shows Gandhi family's grip on party is slipping

  • Political pundits see this infighting in the state as a clash between the old guards and the young generation leaders to grab the attention of the high command.

  • Now with Sonia back in the saddle as interim Congress president, the old guards like Digvijaya Singh are probably aspiring for a bigger role in the party.

  • The state Home Minister Bala Bachchan, who’s a tribal leader, has also expressed his candidature for the coveted post.

The ongoing infighting in the Madhya Pradesh Congress unit is a reflection of the state of the party across the country and diminishing authority of the Gandhi family over the grand old party of India.

An absence of a decisive leadership has opened the field for ambitious party workers to use the opportunity to rise up the ladder, ignoring the damage being inflicted by their actions on the party’s unity and structure. This game is being played prominently in Madhya Pradesh now.

 Factionalism, infighting in Madhya Pradesh Congress over state president post shows Gandhi familys grip on party is slipping

File image of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. ANI

Differences between multiple power groups within the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) have come to the fore with the selection of a new state party president imminent. There are blatant attempts at cornering the spoils that the party got after staying out of power for 15 years. Matters have only gone for the worse with the reported interference in government functioning by former chief minister Digvijaya Singh.

An audio clip has exposed how few ministers and MLAs have asked for ‘shares’, which compelled Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath to order an inquiry.

Digging into the audio clip

The purported audio clip — a discussion between an excise department officer and a whistleblower — exposes the deep-rooted malaise afflicting the party and alleged corruption in the state administration.

In the audio clip the district excise officer of Dhar, Sanjeev Dubey can be heard allegedly telling Anand Rai, who was a whistleblower in the infamous Madhya Pradesh Vyapam case how a few MLAs like “Hiralal Alawa, Rajyavardhan, Umang, etc.” take money from liquor contractors worth Rs 10 to 20 lakh.

This controversial audio clip which went viral on social media has created a furore and the chief secretary of the state shunted the said officer out of Dhar without any further posting. The state government tweeted that an inquiry into the matter has been initiated.

“Everything boils down to the ongoing infighting within Congress party in the state for the post of state Congress chief. There are allegations and counter-allegations by the power groups to tarnish the image of the leaders. It’s said that Digvijaya Singh got an excise officer posted at Dhar, the district which is known as liquor hub of Madhya Pradesh. The inquiry order issued by the government attests to the fact that there is some truth in the interaction between Dubey and Rai. It’ll reveal the culprits, if the inquiry is done properly,” Bhopal-based senior journalist Prabhu Pateria told Firstpost.

Triggering factor

Kamal Nath, who has been holding a dual charge in the state – as chief minister and Pradesh Congress Committee president, asked the Congress leadership to appoint a new chief. As the name of former Lok Sabha member from Guna and senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia — who lost the Lok Sabha election this year — came up, leaders from various power groups became active to prevent him and present themselves as a suitable candidate for the post. The factionalism within the state unit of Congress has become apparent due to levelling of allegations and counter-allegations by party leaders.

This has compelled Congress party in-charge of Madhya Pradesh, Dipak Babaria to issue an instruction to all the Congress workers not to wash dirty linen in public.

“The reason for this chaos within the state Congress is due to the diminishing hold of the high command over the party especially after the exit of Rahul Gandhi from the post of AICC president. There is an imbalance in the functional relationship from top to the middle order and among regional satraps,” senior journalist and political commentator, Rashid Kidwai told Firstpost.

Power groups

Various power groups within the Congress like the Thakurs, Scindia, tribal, etc. have become active in the race for the post of PCC president.

According to sources, the Thakur lobby has been trying to project Ajay Singh (Rahul Bhaiyya), ex-leader of Opposition and son of former Congress stalwart Arjun Singh as the candidate for the post of PCC chief. Digvijaya is said to be actively backing the Thakur lobby. “Even Digvijaya is in the race and he would ensure that Scindia shouldn’t be made president,” a source said.

Apparently, Scindia is backed by several ministers and MLAs. Recently, Scindia had given an ultimatum to AICC to select him as state Congress president or else he would seek an alternative.

The state Home Minister Bala Bachchan, who’s a tribal leader, has also expressed his candidature for the coveted post. He is acceptable to both Nath and Scindia camps.

Similarly, Nath would like to have a candidate of his choice, who won’t pose a threat to him by creating another power centre.

“The state government is already facing a lot of pressure in terms of debts and fulfilling promises made before the elections. Rahul had said that the farmer loans would be waived within 10 days after the formation of the government, but now Nath has chalked a three-year roadmap to waive loans. Obviously, these power groups won’t enjoy the rise of another power centre, if Scindia becomes PCC chief,” said Pateria.

Digvijaya Singh’s role

According to party sources, Digvijaya despite not being an MLA and not holding any official post, has been found to be interfering in the administrative functioning of the government.

“There is news about Digvijaya writing to state ministers about transfers and postings. It has become public that he asked a couple of ministers in Nath’s cabinet to apprise him about the progress of transfers and postings he had suggested. It’s no secret that Digvijaya often visits the ministers at Vallabh Bhawan (Mantralaya) and holds meetings with them outside as well. Many party leaders have questioned his functioning as an ‘Ad hoc CM’. A few Congress leaders have levelled allegations against the former chief minister,” said Pateria.

Recently, Forest Minister Umang Singhar attacked Digvijaya by calling the latter as ‘blackmailer’ and ‘liquor mafia’ of sorts. Singhar, who’s the nephew of former deputy chief minister in the Digvijaya Singh cabinet, late Jamuna Devi alleged that Digvijaya had been blackmailing the government with a few ministers and MLAs on his side, and promoting illegal sand mining and liquor business in the state.

Political pundits see this infighting in the state as a clash between the old guards and the young generation leaders to grab the attention of the high command.

Old guards versus the young generation

Digvijaya, who had enjoyed a powerful position during Sonia Gandhi’s tenure as AICC chief, was virtually sidelined when Rahul became Congress chief. Rahul promoted several young generation leaders like Scindia, Sachin Pilot, etc.

Now with Sonia back in the saddle as interim Congress president, the old guards like Digvijaya are probably aspiring for a bigger role in the party.

“The problem is same here in Madhya Pradesh with Digvijaya, who has no role to play either at AICC or in the state. He wants to be in the reckoning given the election for the Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant in the state next year,” said Kidwai, who authored ‘Sonia, a biography’ and ‘24 Akbar Road’.

He said, “The infighting that we see is more about drawing attention of top Congress leadership than rebellion, especially after Sonia has become interim Congress president. The party leaders in the state are eyeing for bigger posts, where in many cases ambitions are disproportionate to their abilities.”

On the present state of affairs, former Union minister of state and ex-PCC chief, Arun Yadav tweeted: “I’m pained by the developments over the last eight months after having struggled for last 15 years with honest party workers. Had I known things would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have risked my life waging a war against a poisonous and corrupt ideology.”

Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 13:58:48 IST