Monday, November 03, 2014

Exclusive: Loyal Congressman GK Vasan quits party after 14 years: Here's why Gandhis should be worried?

The first major fissure in the Congress has surfaced, with former minister GK Vasan all set to break away from the party to revive his father’s legacy and outfit, the Tamil Maanila Congress in Tamil Nadu. Vasan’s move may have its roots in the conviction of AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa who had to step down as chief minister thereby creating a politically fluid situation in which both the ruling party as well as the opposition DMK are in a state of flux.

"This has raised hopes in other parties and leaders who think they can create space for themselves in the state which was dominated by either the AIADMK or the DMK for close to half a century. This is the best opportunity to come their way. And this includes the BJP which is stands benefit the most from the situation in the state where it wants to set up its footprint," said a Congress leader.

Whether the party fails or succeeds in getting him back sooner or later, what should leave Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi worried is that there may be other Vasans biding their time to strike out on their own in different parts of the country.

For Vasan’s actions cannot just be explained by the political churning set off by Jayalalithaa’s conviction that would prevent her from contesting for 10 years. It is also inextricably linked to the fact that these leaders do not see much hope of a Congress revival after the party’s serial debacles in the 2013 assembly elections, the Lok Sabha polls and the Haryana and Maharashtra elections and the absence of any urgency on the part of Sonia and Rahul to take any corrective or reparative measures to reverse the trend. In a way it is no confidence vote against the party’s top brass to turn the tide.

The warning signs had come before and during the national and state elections when senior leaders like Lal Singh in J&K or Jagdambika Pal in UP and Birender Chaudhary in Haryana jumped ship. But what was a trickle could gather momentum in the coming days.

The reason why Congress has not split yet or has not witnessed mass desertions, it is not because the leaders do not want to quit. If some of them have stayed back post-debacle, it is partly because of two factors: one, the Congress MPs or legislators have lost all political value to BJP which under Narendra Modi’s aggressive campaigning has secured a clear majority of its own in the national elections or in Haryana and does not have to scout for numbers; and two, like the BJP and the regional parties which have done exceedingly well in their states (Trinamool, BJD, AIADMK) have no need for Congressmen while region-based outfits which fared poorly (SP, BSP, NCP) have no use of a Congressmen. A Congress leader was never made to feel so unwanted and redundant.

This explains why leaders like Vasan would prefer to walk their separate path ahead of the assembly elections due in about 18 months in Tamil Nadu. All he needs to do is to revive his father’s outfit. Whether it will help him revive his political fortunes is an altogether different matter but he would believe that it will at least give him a chance to delink himself to some extent from the negativities surrounding the Congress and the UPA.

If Vasan’s move is emulated, there would be a further depletion in the Congress ranks in states like Bihar and West Bengal as well where elections are slated in 2015 and 2016. "Technically, such desertions are not a split but in effect they could amount to one as they further bleed an already mauled party," said a leader.

This also explains why senior leaders who have been involved in the decision-making process in the party are now stepping out to air their views in public. Whether it is out of desperation, frustration or genuine concern to shake up the top echelons into action may be debatable, but it definitely reflects the simmering resentment growing in the party. More so, since the next few years threaten to bring in one bad news after another, with no redemption in sight.

Take a look at some of the states lined up for election. After the Jharkhand and the Jammu and Kashmir state polls, where the Congress is likely to fare poorly because of sharing the burden of incumbency for being a part of the ruling government, there is a bleak future awaiting the party in states like Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where polls are to be held between 2015 and 2017.

Even in states, where the Congress is a factor, it will have to battle incumbency as in the case of Assam, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Karnataka or Himachal Pradesh. And if the anti-Congress sentiment catches on, even the northeastern states which have generally pitched for the grand old party may look for an alternative to complete the party’s decimation across the country and help Modi move relentlessly towards his objective of a 'Congress-Mukt Bharat' and its replacement by what can be called as a 'BJP-Yukt Bharat'.

It is not the defeats as much as the magnitude of the defeats that should be adding to the furrows on Sonia’s foreheads. She has only to consider that whenever or wherever the party has been overtaken by regional or other forces and pushed into the third or fourth position, it has not been able to revive itself be in it in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. And now Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana are being added to the canvas of the land that threatens to turn politically barren for the Congress.
On paper, it has a fair tally of nine states where it is in power and has the status of leader of opposition in 10 states.

But a closer look would show up its depleted strength. Karnataka and the Kerala are the bigger states where in it is ruling in the list that includes Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur. Together they add up to a only 78 Lok Sabha seats.
Likewise, it is the official opposition in small-sized assemblies of Goa, Nagaland and Tripura and mid sized ones like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan. In many of these, as in Rajasthan, it made it only by the skin of its teeth. It is nowhere on the radar in big and critical states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

It is in this background that Congress leaders and workers are straining at the party’s disciplinary leash and Vasans are beginning to surface. General secretary Digvijaya Singh has been flip flopping first by painting Rahul as a leader who lacks the temperament of a ruler who has lost the war of perception with Modi and should have spoken more on critical issues and then following it up by asking him to take charge of the organisation to counter the Modi challenge.

Former finance minister P Chidambaram recently has called on Sonia and Rahul to speak more to the media and the people and chalk out a time bound action plan to give a boost to the party and the worker’s morale. While asserting that Sonia remains their leader, he also said that a non-Gandhi family member could head the organisation. Each of the points he made are now being closely dissected for the message they send out.

The fact that after some local leaders earlier took a potshot at Rahul for his style of functioning and uninspiring leadership and now seniors have also begun airing their views in public, despite intermittent reactions from other loyalists, perhaps reflects the increasingly sorry state of affairs in the party. Despite this, Sonia has not yet gone in for a brainstorming session. Instead she is all0wing Rahul to take the lead in trying to talk to leaders on what should be done. 

And if, as the signs point out, she may be considering passing on the mantle of party presidentship to him when the organizational elections take place by mid-2015, it may be the last straw on the back of the Congress workers. It may well mark the complete collapse of the party unless Rahul miraculously goes for a transformation himself.

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