As the Congress processes Jitin Prasada’s switch to the BJP, a high profile exit that once again exposes the party’s deep crisis, the spotlight is on other members of the “G-23” or group of 23 “dissident” leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping reforms. Kapil Sibal, a prominent member of this club, emphatically ruled out any such move, declaring it would be “Over my dead body”.
The former Union Minister, however, seized the chance to send out a message to his party bosses – it is time for them to listen. He also disapproved of what he called “Prasada Ram politics” based on personal gain rather than ideology.
“I don’t want to comment on what the party leadership has done or not done. We have reached a stage in Indian politics where decisions of this nature are not based on ideology at all. They are based on what I now call Prasada Ram politics. Earlier it was Aaya Ram Gaya Ram. We have seen this happening in West Bengal – suddenly people leave because they think BJP is going to succeed…You want to fight elections not on the basis of your convictions towards an ideology but your conviction that ‘I might get something personally’. The same happened in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra…”
He summed it up as “Crass Prasada politics”.
Jitin Prasada, who was close to Rahul Gandhi, quit yesterday after two years of speculation, attacking his party of 20 years with this parting shot: “I have a three-generation connection with the Congress, so I took this important decision after a lot of deliberation. In the last eight-10 years, I have felt that if there is one party that is truly national, it is BJP. Other parties are regional but this is the national party.”
Mr Prasada was among the G-23 letter writers, who had asked for changes like collective decision-making and “full-time, visible leadership”.
Mr Sibal said the Congress desperately needs reforms and the party leadership had to listen. At the same time, it was inexplicable, he said, that a person like Jitin Prasada would join the BJP.
“Even if issues are addressed, if a person thinks I am not getting anything, he will leave. Jitin may have good reasons to leave. I don’t blame him for leaving the party. I blame him for the reasons he joined the BJP. With what face can he say that now I am embracing an ideology I was opposed to for three decades? And this party that talks about principled politics, with what face do they take Jitin? People are losing faith in this kind of politics.”
Mr Prasada is the second big loss for the Congress after Jyotiraditya Scindia, another former Rahul Gandhi aide who switched to the BJP last year along with a group of Madhya Pradesh MLAs, bringing down the Congress government in the state.
The Madhya Pradesh defections along with back-to-back election losses spurred Congress veterans like Mr Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma into shooting off the unprecedented letter that appeared to take on the Gandhis for the first time.
Speculation is now swirling around Sachin Pilot, who has been demanding a fairer share in the party since his revolt against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last year.
Mr Pilot was persuaded by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to end his rebellion, on the promise of a course correction. He recently reminded his party leaders that nothing had changed since then.
Asked about the Congress’s failure to deliver on remedies, Mr Sibal said: “Issues were not addressed, that is true. They must be addressed as quickly as possible. We will continue to raise those issues. If the party for some reason tells me we don’t need you, I will leave it. I am not in it for myself, but I will never in my life over my dead body join the BJP who I have opposed since my birth as a politician. That’s my issue with Jitin Prasada.”
Pressed on the so-called reforms, he replied: “Don’t ask me, ask whoever has to address them. The Congress must become the grand old party that it was. For that we need reforms. If we haven’t addressed it, we haven’t. We are fighting within the system we have continued to raise issues. All that we want to say is it is time to listen. If the head stops listening, the organization will decline. All that we want is that the Congress party should listen to us.”