Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 15, 2010

CONGRESS leaders and workers in Maharashtra are beginning to wonder if there is one rule that binds the party’s leaders in their state and another for those in other regions. Last week, when Ashok Chavan was given the marching order, he was merely following the path down which many of his Congress predecessors were dispatched by the party high command — forced out of office without completing a full term. Chavan’s ouster was an attempt to project a clean image for the Congress, whose government in Delhi is facing flak on a host of corruption charges. No doubt it gave a moral edge to the Congress but it signaled the erosion of the state’s political authority.

For more than four decades now, the Congress has been slowly but steadily disintegrating in Maharashtra which was once a “ bulk seat” state. Ashok Chavan was the 20th chief minister since the state came into being in 1960 and barring two — Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane of the Shiv Sena— all others have been from the Congress.

Yet, only one — Vasantrao Naik — completed a full term. He, in fact, ruled uninterrupted for eight years from 1967.

The rest were all waylaid by either internal party rumblings, charges of corruption or sacked because of appalling inefficiency. Each time change was effected, the high command claimed the high moral ground. In reality, this was nothing but political expediency as many of the chief ministers ejected from office later found their way back. There were some exceptions: Abdul Rahman Antulay, Shivajirao Nilangekar- Patil and Sudhakarrao Naik, but even they were brought to the Centre.

As late as 2004, Sushil Kumar Shinde, without doubt among the most acceptable of Dalit leaders in the Congress, was asked to go barely months after he had taken the Congress to a handsome victory in the assembly elections. He was replaced by, well, the man he replaced barely a year- and- a- half earlier, Vilasrao Deshmukh. The latter was forced out of office in 2008 not because of 26/ 11 but because he took his actor son on a conducted tour of the burnt out Taj Hotel. And now, Chavan has been shown the door because some of his relatives are among those who got apartments in the controversial Adarsh Society.

The story is repeated in the case of the state PCC presidents too, most of whom are not allowed to settle into their seats. The average tenure of the MPCC chief has been about two years and Pratibha Patil, now the country’s president, led the MPCC for exactly 18 months.

To a large extent, regional lead- Sushil Shinde ers themselves are responsible for the party’s pathetic plight in many of the states. Most of the PCCs are so horribly divided that state- level leaders can never agree on anything and leave the decision making process to the high command, a euphemism for 10 Janpath. We saw this most recently at the AICC session in Delhi earlier this month which was specifically convened to elect 13 members to the Congress Working Committee. Instead, the AICC voted as one to let Sonia Gandhi decide who will be in the CWC. The absence of the democratic process means that the party is being led by “ leaders” who are thrust upon the cadres.

With all power being concentrated to a few hands in Delhi, there is little attention paid to the states. There is no one in the party in major states such as Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Orissa who can be truly called “ leader” After Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death, Andhra Pradesh has joined the group.

Ashok Chavan’s ouster has left local Congress leaders really peeved. I was in Mumbai last week and met up with a lot of them who had much to say about the high command’s discrimination.
The charge against Chavan is loose change compared to the allegations against, say Sheila Dikshit or a host of central ministers. Yet, Dikshit is in her 13th year in office and scam tainted Union ministers carry on merrily.

The party is likely to pay a high price for the very different yardstick that is applied in Mumbai.
With 48 seats, Maharashtra sends the second largest contingent of MPs to the Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh. It’s a “ bulk seat state” that’s very crucial to the Congress and its alliance partner, the NCP. But the high command’s revolving door policy doesn’t hold much hope for the Congress in that crucial state.

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