Congress leaders call DK Shivakumar "Sankat Mochan" (the one who eradicates pain, suffering, sorrow). And, today, the Karnataka veteran appeared to be the party's last man standing outside Mumbai's Renaissance Hotel, waiting for hours in the pouring rain to meet the rebel MLAs whose resignations are placed to bring down the Karnataka government.
All he had for company was a huge media contingent giving breathless updates and his Man Friday who organized grande-sized coffees to fuel DKS. Missing in action to support DKS were the warring leaders and workers of the Mumbai Congress who were busy attacking each other on social media.
Milind Deora, for example, who has quit as Maharashtra chief last week in expectations of a "national role", first tweeted that he had phoned DKS and then stirred himself for a late afternoon drop-by after a huge outcry from Congress supporters on social media.
On Deora's watch, the Congress lost all six seats in Mumbai in the recent general elections. Maharashtra votes for its state government in three months. And yet, its leaders are busy only with an unedifying and public power struggle. Sanjay Nirupam, who Deora replaced as state chief, has been openly attacking him on social media. Urmila Matondkar, who lost from Mumbai North, wrote a letter to Deora which was heavily critical of Nirupam's aides and this was leaked. Nirupam then attacked Deora as a "young dynast" who had leaked the letter and tweeted that Deora had learnt these tricks from "his mentor Jaitley". Mind-boggling in a party which is Dynasty Central and clearly guaranteed to make Nirupam win influential friends.
Contrast this leak versus ugly leak with Shivakumar's absolute discipline. Even when he was kept out from from the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka in 2013, he did not say a word - publicly, at any rate. He was made a minister in 2014. DKS also ensured that Ahmed Patel won his Rajya Sabha election in 2017 by sequestering all MLAs in his resort. Perhaps for all his efforts, he was raided by the income tax department and Enforcement Directorate but has remained steadfast in his support.
Through the morning, DKS was constantly in touch with Sonia Gandhi and her political advisor, Ahmed Patel. I called DKS and he gave me his spiel of how all the Congress MLAs flocked together in Mumbai were his "friends who I love and who could never ditch me". When I asked about the lack of support from Maharashtra leaders, DKS laughed and said the line is bad and he would call me.
Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi who has triggered the crisis in the party with his resignation and raised slogans in parliament yesterday against Congress MLAs being poached, is on a belated trip to his traditional constituency Amethi which he lost.
Gandhi first announced that he would resign as President on May 25; the party has still not found a solution to its leadership conundrum. The fabled Congress "high command" seems to have melted away and this has triggered a vicious and potentially wrecking war between older leaders and the young Turks who want to take control.
Sonia Gandhi sensed this and reportedly offered Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh a shot at being interim president. Singh wisely declined and set the cat among pigeons by saying a "young and dynamic leader should succeed Rahul Gandhi".
The young and largely entitled leaders loosely grouped around RG want to seize control from the Sonia Gandhi loyalists and of course settle scores of a lifetime. So you have Jyotiraditya Scindia quitting as General Secretary, Uttar Pradesh (West), accepting responsibility for the national loss and the zero score in his designated zone. But Scindia is stepping on the ashes of the UP debacle hoping to be made Congress President. Posters came up in Madhya Pradesh asking for his appointment. His rivals say that he should not be rewarded for his failure.
Even Janardan Dwivedi whose claim to fame as a Congress leader is that he was Sonia Gandhi's Hindi tutor took pot shots at arch enemy Patel at a press conference on Monday. Diwedi claimed that all meetings to find a replacement to RG were not authorised and as proof said that A K Antony did not attend any of these meetings. Says a senior Congress leader "Even Dwivedi has now found his voice. He is setting scores with Patel. He should know that he is so irrelevant that he is not being invited for any of the power meetings".
Meanwhile, Ghulam Nabi Azad, General Secretary in charge of Haryana, went public that an election committee set up by Ashok Tanwar, the state chief who has not quit despite public nudges, is "illegal". Haryana also goes to the polls in three months; expect a walkover for the BJP.
A plan to make a Gandhi family loyalist the interim president with three young Vice Presidents has also been vetoed by the young guns who say this will not give them any power. A contender and young leader told me, "I am not a young kid who can be pacified with a useless lollipop. Make me Chief Minister and we will talk. No more useless jobs."
I had written here that after the massive Modi re-election, all Congress governments are hanging by a thread. It is a reality in Karnataka today as the coalition is on the verge of an ignominious collapse; next could be Madhya Pradesh. Even in Rajasthan, the chronic fight between Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot is ensuring huge public disenchantment with the Congress government.
To prevent the Congress from further implosion, leaders like DKS should be empowered by the Gandhi family. Will it happen? No, says a senior leader who is a mentor to DKS. According to him, the current requirement is a "puppet president" who makes such a huge mess that the Gandhis are welcomed back as saviours. Write off the upcoming state elections and a national opposition in India.
(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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