By Prabhjot Singh*
India’s grand old political party – Congress – is at crossroads as it is passing through its worst existential crisis. Going through its “reformational” phase after series of defeats in the last two general elections where it just managed to get 44 and 52 seats in Lok Sabha, it has been losing leaders left and right. Its loss has been BJP’s gain.
It has performed no better in Assembly elections of various states in recent years.
The Association of Democratic Reforms said in a report that 222 electoral candidates left the Congress to join other parties during polls held between 2014 and 2021, while 177 MPs and MLAs quit the party during the same period, nearly 45 per cent of MLAs who defected between 2016 and 2020 joined the BJP.
The trend instead of slowing down has picked pace in 2022. The count of senior party functionaries saying good bye to Congress is rising by day. Pretending to be unmindful of the continuous exodus, the Congress High Command has lapsed into silence mode.
It has failed to stem the exodus of leaders despite some attempts to bring in structural reforms through much-hyped Chintan Shivir, or brainstorming session, in Udaipur.
Starting with former Union Ministers Kapil Sibal, Ashwani Kumar and RPN Singh, the party also lost Bollywood star-turned politician Shatrughan Sinha. Sinha had a short stint in Congress while others had been Congress loyalists all their life.
Interestingly, Shatrughan Sinha, who had earlier come from Bhartiya Janata Party, joined Mamata Banerjee’s TMC party to get entry into Lok Sabha from Asansol in a bye-election last month.
Kapil Sibal has joined Akhilesh Yadav and party – Samajwadi Party – to get into Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh.
Senior leaders like Jitin Prasada and Jyotiraditya Scindia, besides former Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev and P C Chacko, were among those who set the exodus from Congress in motion.
At one stage, both Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot were projected as future leaders of Congress.
While Jyotiraditya Scindia moved to BJP and is now Civil Aviation Minister in the Narendra Modi Government, Sachin Pilot, too, raised a banner of revolt in Rajasthan where his claim to the Chief Ministerial post was overlooked and Ashok Gehlot got the High Command nod.
After the Congress High Command decided to replace Capt Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister six months before the end of his term, he, too, left the party and floated his own outfit, the Punjab Lok Congress. He then entered into an alliance with the BJP and the Sanyukat Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa to contest the Punjab Assembly elections in February this year.
Other Punjab Congress leaders who quit the party and joined BJP were Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi and Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa. Both of them contested the Punjab Assembly elections and were unsuccessful like Capt Amarinder Singh to get into the new Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
Since Punjab Congress was tormented by factionalism, the then State Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sunil Jakhar was replaced by Navjot Singh Sidhu. After the party suffered a debacle in the State Assembly elections, Sunil Jakhar was faced with disciplinary action for anti-party activities. He also quit the party and joined BJP.
Even Navjot Singh Sidhu had a short tenure as the Pradesh Congress Committee chief. After the Assembly elections, he was replaced by Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.
The change of leadership in the State did not stem the defections. Complaining of “suffocation” within the party, senior functionaries, including former legislators, are walking out of the party.
Not far behind Sunil Jakhar to hold the Saffron flag are senior Punjab Congress leaders like Balbir Singh Sidhu, Sundar Shyam Arora, Kewal Dhillon, Raj Kumar Verka, and Gurpreet Singh Kangar. Never before so many Punjab Congress leaders left the party in such big numbers.
It is also for the first time that no one from Congress represents Punjab in Rajya Sabha. All the seven seats have been captured by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Other than these Punjab leaders, Congress also suffered the existential crisis in other parts of the country. The Patidar leader Hardik Patel’s resignation as working President of Gujarat Congress didn’t come as a surprise as he had been criticising Congress and its leaders for not having a “roadmap for the people”, Patel said in his resignation letter that India wanted solutions for issues like Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, implementation of GST, and Congress “only played the role of a roadblock and was always only obstructive”. As expected he joined the BJP ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections.
Before Hardik Patel and Sunil Jakhar, Ripun Bora, a former Assam PCC chief quit the Congress party and joined Trinamool Congress (TMC) in April. He too raised a finger at the infighting within the Congress which, he claimed, had “demoralised” party workers and paved the way for BJP to grow.