Pity poor Rahul Gandhi - in his Love Guru avatar, he hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi but can't get his regional satraps to just get along. Not even when a crucial election is at stake.
With 28 days to go for voting, the Congress, now out of power for 15 years in Madhya Pradesh, should sense opportunity and work as a unified force to wrest the state from Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the BJP. Dream on. The Congress, true to character, is making the going difficult for itself.
At a meeting in the Delhi party war room today, Madhya Pradesh powerhouses and long-time rivals Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh shouted at each other, reliable sources have said. Rahul Gandhi was present along with other senior leaders at the session called to discuss candidates for the state election.
Scindia hopes to become Chief Minister of his home state. Digvijaya Singh has been cast out in the cold by Gandhi throughout the campaign for MP - but was nevertheless invited to the meeting.
Kamal Nath, who is the final point of the Congress trifecta in MP and is the party's chief in the state, is reportedly fed up of trying to maintain a fragile peace while also running the campaign. Not to mention that both he and Suresh Pachauri, another faction leader, are also petitioning for their supporters to get tickets.
So with only a month to go and the rivalry peaking, the Congress has not been able to make a final list of candidates. Rues a senior leader, "We are terribly short of funds and now, with this uncertainty, when will we go and fight and campaign against the BJP? Here we have the Congress fighting and seeking ways to defeat itself."
So how does Gandhi deal with it? Certainly not by being decisive or telling senior leaders to find a way to work together or else. Gandhi had dithered over appointing a state chief for months in MP and now he has formed a committee of trouble shooters - Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Patel and Veerappa Moily - to take a final view on the recommendations of the warring MP factions.
So a new trio will now try to keep the old trio in check. Trouble is that Ashok Gehlot, former Rajasthan Chief Minister, is also busy defending his turf in his home state from the ambitious state chief Sachin Pilot.
The Pilot faction of the Rajasthan Congress is gleeful that Gehlot will be preoccupied with the big fight in MP. However, nothing in Gehlot is reportedly using his proximity to Gandhi to push his own claim to Chief Ministership with tickets for his faction. Important to note though that Pilot and Gehlot have not allowed their rivalry to go public.
In-house surveys of both the Congress and the BJP indicate that Rajasthan is going to be a big win for the former. Surveys by the BJP done a month ago showed even MP would be lost on account of huge anti-incumbency and farmer anger. But the factional fight in the Congress has given hope to Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP chief Amit Shah of beating the odds. Shah has even struck a rare truce with Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia and allowed her to dictate candidate selection.
In Chhattisgarh, Amit Shah is hopeful of victory. The Congress failed to chalk an understanding with Ajit Jogi, called "vote katua" (vote cutter), who has allied with Mayawati and hailed her as the next PM.
These three assembly elections should have presented a battle-hungry Congress to the country ahead of 2019. Instead, it's same-old same-old with the only novelty factor being provided by Divya Spandana's meltdown today on Twitter, which does the party no favours. Rahul Gandhi has shown, with his handling of the Rafale controversy, that he's capable of tough talk. Time for him to take the same tone with his recalcitrant leaders. Or live with having little more than an ice cream cone to offer Kamal Nath.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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