Weak Top Brass, Floundering Decisions: Why Cong Can’t Do a BJP & Replace Unpopular CMs

For the BJP, there is a simple calculation behind suddenly changing chief ministers of three poll-bound states — ignore barbs from opponents, ensure removal of chief ministers who could be a liability during polls and instead, win elections with change of guard. The removal of Gujarat’s Vijay Rupani has earned rebuke from both the TMC and Congress but the BJP couldn’t care less.

This brings us to the issue of almost a similar situation in few Congress-ruled states that are facing internal rebellion; Punjab being the most glaring example. Over 32 MLAs made a trip to Delhi to convey to the Congress leadership that contesting polls under Captain Amarinder Singh would mean a sure loss. The Congress top brass got into a huddle and all they could come out with was appointment of Captain’s arch rival Navjot Singh Sidhu as the state president. But this has only widened the schism in state Congress and now both sides are involved in a game of one-upmanship.

The two other states where Congress is in power — Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — face similar problem of infighting and one-upmanship. For now, the Gandhis have managed to put a lid on the Baghel versus TS Singh Deo battle but it’s clear both are in no mood to concede space. The two warring leaders are under observation but changing Baghel, an OBC leader, may be neither easy nor feasible just head of UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand polls.

It’s a fact that Rahul Gandhi had accepted that he had promised a rotation system and he felt that this should be honoured. But Sonia Gandhi and her advisers understood the political fallout and the decision was put on hold. But for how long? In Rajasthan too, the Gehlot versus Pilot saga sees no closure with the long promised and awaited cabinet reshuffle yet to take place and an admission that replacing Gehlot who enjoys support of most MLAs may not be easy.

All these states would eventually lead to polls with an embattled state leadership. It would need mustering a lot of courage to change guard. But more than that, it would require a strong central leadership. The underlying fact of the change of CMs by BJP in Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Gujarat is the strong central leadership. In all these states, the change has been swift, sudden and unfollowed by any protests. What the Centre said was the last word.

But with Congress, while it may claim that it’s a more democratic set-up and hence won’t breathe down on electorally chosen leaders in states, the reality is that the central leadership is not focussed, is weak and unable to flex its muscles. The case of Chhattisgarh where Rahul Gandhi could not have his way is a glaring instance.

At times, the central leadership needs to show they are the boss and have the might to keep the flock together. But battered by losses, floundering decisions have only made the Gandhis look weak.

The past comes back to haunt. When there were many allegations that Tarun Gogoi was being ruthless in dealing with his party opponents and had nurtured coteries with no parallel power centre being allowed to develop, the Gandhis refused to pay heed to the complaints.

The story of Himanta Biswa Sarma cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Sarma, in private, often made the point that while he wouldn’t want to replace Gogoi as the CM of Assam, all he wanted was some importance being given to him and he being made PCC chief. But to use Sarma’s words: “He preferred to give more attention to his pet Pidi than me”. The rest is history. Today, Sarma is the chief minister of Assam and the Congress may soon be eased out in the state in future with the TMC clearly eyeing it. If only, as some say, Rahul Gandhi had heard Sarma out, seen the writing on the wall and mustered courage to change a CM who was becoming unpopular.

Cutting to history again, post YSR’s death, the Congress did change chief ministers but they were experiments in disaster. From K Rosaiah to Kiran Reddy, no CM could match up to YSR’s iron grip. Today, YSR’s son is CM of Andhra Pradesh but a bitter enemy of the Congress. In fact, just recently when many MLAs gave feedback to Rahul Gandhi that Narayanasamy was unpopular and should be changed if Congress was to win in the polls, no decision was taken. Yet again. And Congress lost the elections.

So while the potshots from the Opposition continue, in the end, the litmus test for any political party is its ability to win polls. If BJP manages to wrest power in the three states which saw change of CMs, it would stand vindicated. Once again, it would show that Congress has been caught napping by not seeing the writing on the wall at the right time and that the Gandhis cannot be accused of giving priority to winning.

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