Party yet to appoint State-level office-bearers in Gujarat amid in-fighting in Punjab, Chhattisgarh.
The change of guard in Gujarat has once again brought into focus the high stakes battle not just for the ruling party but also for the Congress.
Though the party identified poll bound Gujarat as a ‘priority’ State, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) is yet to appoint an in-charge for the State after the former AICC in-charge Rajeev Satav passed in the middle of May due to COVID-19 complications.
The incumbent Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Amit Chavda and the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) chief Paresh Dhanani had resigned in March this year after the party’s rout in the local body polls.
They were asked to continue until their replacements were found and the party had started the process of taking the feedback from workers.
However, first Mr Satav’s demise was a major setback and then the party’s top leadership got entangled in a very public factional war in the Punjab Congress between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Even now, the delay could be linked to the Congress high command working out a solution to resolve infighting in one of the Congress-ruled States, said a senior party functionary.
The last word on the Chhattisgarh leadership tussle has not yet been spoken and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is said to be keen on honouring his ‘promise’ that Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel will make way for his colleague, T.S. Singh Deo, after completing two-and-half years in the top post.
If the high command can effect a change in leadership in Chhattisgarh, Mr Baghel could then be given the responsibility of overseeing the Congress campaign in Gujarat, given his previous experience in States like Assam and Bihar.
Mr Baghel, however, has been far from willing to step down and has, in fact, displayed his strength in terms of support from MLAs on a number of occasions.
In the past, there have also been speculation about drafting Rajasthan Congress leader, Sachin Pilot, to take on the BJP government. During the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, in which the Congress had won 77 seats and had restricted the BJP to 99 seats, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had played a key role in devising strategy to put up a credible fight.
Since then the Congress party’s strength has come down to 66 MLAs, with several MLAs switching over to the BJP. And to add to Congress’ discomfort, the Aam Admit Party (AAM) too is emerging as a political alternative in a State where the BJP has dominated since the mid 90s.
The Congress may now have to try out younger leaders like Hardik Patel, whose agitation to seek reservation for the Patidars or Patels under the umbrella of Patidar Anamat Adolan Samti (PAAS) in the last election had threatened to dent the BJP’s traditional support base.
“Hardik is now a working president of our State unit and has a proven mass base. The party should definitely highlight better utilise his potential,”said the senior leader quoted above.