UPA partners impatient as Congress struggles to end leadership crisis

United Progressive Alliance partners remain impatient as Congress struggles to end leadership crisis
Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former president Sonia Gandhi at a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi. PTI

According to former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson one week can be a long time in politics. But for congress party, six weeks is not a long time as it grapples with the leadership crisis. While much of the time was spent trying to persuade Rahul Gandhi to remain in office, now there is no clarity on the temporary and permanent arrangements to be made, as Rahul is firm on his decision. There is even a feeling among senior leaders that the situation should remain in a flux for some more time, until clarity emerges both within and outside the Gandhi family. There is one group which feels Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is most suitable as the Gandhi family is the only glue that holds the party together. But that would mean the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would continue to attack the party as being tied to the apron strings of a dynasty.

The debate is also on whether there should be free and fair organisational elections rather than a group of senior leaders imposing a president with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka. Though there have been occasional contests, the Congress largely preferred consensus while electing the president. After Indira Gandhi wrested full control of Congress following the second split in the party, presidents from both the Gandhi family and outsiders like P V Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri ensured there was only token opposition when it came to the election of Congress president.

Even if the Congress is ready, some of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partners are getting impatient because of the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkand and Haryana later this year. Except Haryana, UPA faces the might of BJP and its allies after the total washout during Lok Sabha elections. The UPA partners in Maharashtra and Jharkand have been asking the All India Congress Committee (AICC) whom they should deal with in Delhi and at the state-level.

In Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) says there is no local responsible Congress leader after the resignation of the state president Ashok Chavan and Bombay Regional Congress Committee president Milind Deora. Their replacements have not been named, even as there is a steady of defection of Congress leaders, such as Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, to BJP. Mallikarjun Kharge, the party general secretary-in-charge of both the committees, has told Pawar to wait until the appointment of the new national president. Jharkand Mukti Morcha, the UPA partner in Jharkhand, too appears to have got the same message from Congress.

United Progressive Alliance partners remain impatient as Congress struggles to end leadership crisis
Former Cong chief Sonia Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati, WB chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Cong chief Rahul Gandhi, AP CM Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy

In Haryana, even though the Congress has no allies, there is a demand that the party should tie-up with Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party against the ruling BJP. The seat-sharing talks between Congress and AAP in Delhi before the Lok Sabha election had broken down because Kejriwal insisted on seat sharing in Haryana. But all the top Congress leaders, including former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, State Congress president Ashok Tanwar and former Union Minister Shelja had tasted severe defeats as the BJP consolidated all non-votes, leaving the Congress and Indian National Lok Dal factions to fight for the jat vote. The AAP claims that Kejriwal has a big appeal from non-Jat communities, such as Banias, Sainis and Brahmins, which he can be trasnferred to Congress in return for the Jat vote.

Even as Congress is looking forward, the BJP has been aggressive in all the three States. It has netted the lone Rajya Sabha member of the Indian National Lok Dal, and is wooing powerful local leaders in different districts. In Maharashtra, the saffron party is identifying potential Assembly election winners of the Congress and NCP, offering them a place either in the Assembly or the State Legislative Council. Jharkand chief minister Raghubir Das is working hard to break the Jharkand Mukti Morcha, encouraging dissidents against the party chief Shibu Soren and his son Hemant Soren.

United Progressive Alliance partners remain impatient as Congress struggles to end leadership crisis
Leaders from major Indian opposition parties hold hands in solidarity against ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government during a public rally organized by Trinamool Congress party in Kolkata, India, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. The rally has been attended by the leaders of twenty-two national and regional parties who oppose the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. (AP

Partners like NCP and JMM have also approached Sonia Gandhi, who remains the chairperson of the UPA, to energise the units in the three States, before the Election Commission blows the whistle for the conduct of Assembly elections.

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