More than 50 days after Rahul Gandhi resigned as the Congress president, the party is facing a series of crises across key states—from the threat to the coalition government in Karnataka and defections in Goa, to intra-party turf wars across state units. Party leaders are also wary of the crisis facing the central leadership, which they say may make matters worse in other states, too.
The political crisis since Gandhi’s resignation began with 12 of its 19 Telangana MLAs merging with the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS). This was followed by the resignations of over a dozen Karnataka MLAs, which threatens to destabilise its coalition government with the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S).
The Karnataka Congress MLAs have already moved the Supreme Court demanding their right to resign, at a time when the coalition government is preparing for a floor test in the legislative assembly on Thursday to test the strength of the chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy-led government.
“The trouble in Karnataka was brewing for a while and all top leaders were aware that the situation will heat up after the general election results. That there is a crisis in the central leadership and an official chain of command is missing has worsened the situation," a senior Congress leader from Karnataka said, requesting anonymity.
In what was seen as an indicator of the beginning of an organizational overhaul, nearly a month after the Congress was routed in the Lok Sabha elections, the party dissolved its Karnataka unit and Uttar Pradesh’s district units last month. In Karnataka, the top state leadership was continuing in their posts.
“With the resignation of the party president, all top leaders are stationed here, but no one has either the authority or accountability to take a decisive call as no one wants to ruffle feathers. If it speaks of anything, technically even the state unit is dissolved for now," he added.
While the Karnataka crisis was still playing out, the Congress also faced a major setback in Goa last week when 10 out of its 15 MLAs defected to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
There are fears in some sections of the party that it’s not just about the elected governments which have a wafer-thin majority, such as in Madhya Pradesh, which could be vulnerable, but even where it is in the Opposition, mass defections may now be on the cards.
“One can prepare for guarding its flock when the party is in power, but we are facing a new kind of trouble where the opposition party gets split. In a state like Goa, we hardly got any time to respond. Rahul Gandhi’s resignation and the lack of any signs of his replacement have given more reasons for fence-sitters to leave for good," a senior Congress Rajya Sabha member said, also requesting anonymity.
The Congress is also facing troubles in Delhi and Punjab. While P.C. Chako, the Delhi in-charge, and three working presidents of the state unit, have objected to Delhi party chief Sheila Dikshit’s decision to appoint block observers, calling it ‘unauthorized’, a war of words has broken out between Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and senior leader Navjot Singh Sidhu over the latter’s resignation as minister.
“Congress is in disarray and it is self-inflicted, being a party dominated by one family. The top leadership has always been oblivious of the issue of succession and now it has become a sore point. The lack of party discipline is even more stark," said Subrata Mukherjee, a New Delhi based political analyst. “The BJP too needs to be careful. With an absolute majority, people will hold them to scrutiny," he added.