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From MP, Gujarat to Rajasthan: Congress leadership crisis or BJP's Operation Kamal?

India Today logo India Today 11-06-2020 Prabhash K Dutta
Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi are posing for a picture: The Congress has accused the BJP of luring its MLAs in Rajasthan after doing the same in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The Congress has accused the BJP of luring its MLAs in Rajasthan after doing the same in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

The Congress shifted its MLAs from Gujarat to Rajasthan earlier this week to shield them from "poaching" by the BJP in the view of the Rajya Sabha election. Now, the Congress is fighting to save its government in Rajasthan from being "poached" by the same rival BJP. At least this is what the Congress is saying.

"Like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, in Rajasthan, our MLAs and independents supporting us are being lured in an attempt to destablise a democratically elected government, which is completely devoted to the service of people," Congress leader Mahesh Joshi, the chief whip of the Rajasthan Assembly, has written to Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB).

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot too has said he "heard reports" of the BJP being ready to spend up to Rs 30 crore for each MLA to topple his government.

It was the same allegation that the Congress had leveled against the BJP in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year before the Covid-19 crisis pushed politics to the background. In Madhya Pradesh too, an unverified audio clip in which Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was purportedly heard telling BJP workers that the Congress government of Kamal Nath fell after a green signal from party's central leadership.

A total of 22 MLAs -- along with Jyotiraditya Scindia -- of the Congress had resigned facilitating reinstallation of the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. Such changes of power are unofficially called Operation Kamal (lotus being the election symbol of the BJP).

It happened in Karnataka many years ago and again in 2019 when a BJP government under BS Yeddiyurappa replaced the Congress-JDS alliance.

In all such instances, the Congress has squarely blamed the BJP, accusing it of engineering defection by luring lawmakers with money. The Congress leveled the same charge in Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election in 2017.

THE CONGRESS CRISIS

But there is a section within the Congress that sees a deeper issue in the party emerging from an internal leadership crisis. Congress national spokesperson Sanjay Jha told India Today TV exactly the same earlier this week.

He said, "Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and now Gujarat, reflect the growing sense of insecurity among leaders about the party's future which nobody is willing to address."

"There is a sense of insecurity and these people are leaving because they are unsure about the party's future," said Sanjay Jha pointing out the lethargy with which the Congress has responded in the aftermath of its twin-Lok Sabha election defeats.

Following the rout of 2014, the Congress appointed an internal committee to look into the reasons for the election failure. The findings were never seriously discussed in the Congress party.

Sanjay Jha said, "Same happened after 2019 loss, while there is an urgent need to discuss political strategies, allies, fundraising and reducing bureaucracy within the AICCEven the committees and various bodies of the party are comatose and need to be revamped, the CWC needs to take an urgent call on this."

The comments made by the Congress spokesperson might not have gone down well with the party leadership. But it reflects what the party members feel about the current leadership.

Manish Tewari, another senior Congress leader, disagreed with Sanjay Jha but due to his timing of raising this concern in public.

LEADERSHIP ISSUE IS NOT NEW

The drubbing of the Congress in 2014 was interpreted initially as the logic of democracy where a two-term government was voted out. It was also expected that the Congress would have a smooth transition of power from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi.

An intense power struggle within the Congress party between the old guard and the new delayed, in fact never allowed, the much needed revamp of the party. It also delayed Rahul Gandhi's elevation as the party president.

In every state, except perhaps Punjab, the Congress appeared faction-ridden aligned to different camps of the central leadership. Rahul Gandhi finally took over as Congress president in December 2017. But the old guard refused to lose control of what insiders call 'the Congress system'.

2019 POLLS ONLY MADE IT WORSE

Another resounding defeat in 2019 polls only worsened the leadership crisis despite the Congress under Rahul Gandhi snatching three Hindi heartland states from the BJP. Rahul Gandhi's resignation after the 2019 defeat did no good to the Congress party. The old guard brought Sonia Gandhi hback to the party's helm within three months of the defeat.

What followed were a string of resignations of senior leaders Kripashankar Singh and Harshvardhan Patil in Maharashtra, Ashok Tanwar in Haryana, Pradyot Debbarma in Tripura and even new entrants like Urmila Matondkar. Many others were pushed to the sideline.

Party leaders say there was no serious attempt made by the Congress central leadership to address the concerns of those parting ways. This was the same complaint that Himanta Biswa Sarma had against the Congress central leadership of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi when he quit the party to join the BJP in 2015 in Assam. He turned the fortunes of the BJP in the entire North-East.

Jyotiraditya Scindia is also believed to have quit the Congress after being "ignored" by the party leadership. His concerns were not addressed within the party. His walked over to the BJP with his loyalist MLAs, making Operation Kamal a success in Madhya Pradesh.

BUT, IS THE BJP CLEAN?

Sanjay Jha summed it up in his interview to India Today TV. He said, "This is not Vajpayee's BJP, it's a formidable opponent we have to fight against but listlessness has crept in and it is disappointing."

Sajay Jha may well be referring to the 1996 speech given by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha. He had then described the character of the BJP.

Vajpayee had said, "Party todkar, satta ke liye naya gathbandhan kar agar satta haath main aati hai to main aisi saata ko cheemte se bhi nahi choona pasand karunga [if we have to split a party to come to power, I would not like to touch that power even with a pair of tongs]."

Twelve years later, Operation Kamal brought the BJP to power in Karnataka. It has been replicated in many states since then. Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are fresh examples. The Congress says Operation Kamal is in motion in Rajasthan too, maybe, conveniently overlooking its own leadership issues.

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