How Congress' high-command culture proved fatal for the party in Manipur and Goa

Even after emerging as the single largest party in both Manipur and Goa assemblies, Congress MLAs may well be warming opposition benches for the next five years

Old habits die hard. The high-handed treatment of the Congress high-command towards its regional leadership seems to be just going on and on. The high command has screwed Congress over in Manipur and Goa, where the party is eyeing a stint in the opposition despite being the largest party in both the state assemblies.

There is nothing new in the tantrums being thrown by Congress’ first family when dealing with regional leaders and cadre. The snobbery at display has costed Congress electorally over and over, but successive generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family have failed to learn their lessons.

The infamous episode of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi publically scolding then Andhra Pradesh chief minister T Anjaiah in 1982 ended up hurting the party in the state election an year later. More recently, Rahul Gandhi followed in his father’s footsteps when he reportedly refused to give a careful ear to Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma in 2016. In the aftermath of this encounter, Sarma switched sides and was viewed as instrumental in helping the BJP win power in the state.


How is Congress squandering away an opportunity in Manipur?

Sarma is now a crucial member of the BJP delegation in Manipur that is negotiating with crossbenchers in the state assembly in a bid to form the first right-wing government in the north-eastern hill state. Congress won 28 seats in the incoming assembly as compared to BJP’s 21, but Congress leadership was seen as too late in staking a claim to form government.

According to news reports, both Congress and the BJP had realised that they were moving toward a hung assembly well ahead of the counting of votes concluding on March 11. While BJP scrambled a delegation headed by party general secretary Ram Madhav from Delhi in an attempt to woo smaller outfits, Congress leaders twiddled their thumbs waiting for God-knows-what. According to an Indian Express report on Monday, Manipur governor Nejma Heptulla had to ask outgoing chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh to tender his resignation so she could move on with the process of government formation.

Also read: BJP stakes claim to form govt in Manipur, gets support from local parties

The slackness on Congress’ part didn’t end there.

Ibobi Singh presented a dodgy piece of paper which stated support of four MLAs of Naga People’s Front (NPF) for Congress, only to be questioned by the governor on the veracity of the paper and the claims on it. The BJP dealmakers, on the other hand, carried out negotiations with smaller parties and finally managed to enlist the support of four MLAs of the Naga People’s Party (NPP).

The NPP general secretary, Vivek Raj, was quoted as saying by News 18, “There is no question of supporting the Congress. We will support the BJP.”

The BJP, headed by its state Legislature Party leader, N Biren, now claims support of at least seven crossbenchers and says that it has the numbers to form the next government in Manipur.

The Congress has raised questions on the BJP being given “priority” in government formation in Manipur. But there is no denying the fact that Congress botched up, yet again. And nobody could be blamed more for the botch-up than the Congress high-command.

What’s happening in Goa?

Congress has all but lost Goa, despite winning 17 seats in the 40-member assembly as compared to the BJP’s 11. Former defense minister and previously also a CM of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, is all set to be sworn in as the new leader of the state tonight. Parrikar assuming the leadership of Goa has been challenged by Congress in Supreme Court, but it looks like Congress is fighting a lost battle.

Also read: Congress moves SC against Goa governor’s decision to appoint Manohar Parrikar as Chief Minister

While Congress didn’t win the coastal state hands down, the mandate was more against the BJP with the outgoing chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar losing from his seat too. However, a reported delay on part of Congress leadership to stake a claim to form government meant that the BJP sent in its senior minister and master strategist Nitin Gadkari to stitch a working majority, a task he accomplished pretty well. Congress MLA’s were left fuming, more at their own party’s high-command than the BJP.

Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh had been coordinating with crossbencher parties in Goa in the wake of election results, but couldn’t match up to political deftness of Gadkari.

“It is miserable and horrible…people trusted the Congress and voted for us…we get a clear 17 seats and we still couldn’t manage to form government… we are the laughing stock,” newly-elected Congress MLA Jennifer Monserrate was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

Monserrate isn’t the only leader unhappy with the party high-command. A former deputy chief minister, Vishwajit P Rane, told English news channel NDTV“A lot of thoughts are coming in my mind. Sometimes I just feel that I am in the wrong party.”

According to the NDTV report, Rane and several of newly elected MLAs have expressed anger over the way Congress’ general secretary and party’s in-charge of Goa affairs, Digvijaya Singh, had gone about this whole business. A Gandhi family confidante, Singh, is being blamed for not approaching the the smaller parties early enough, which eventually made way for Gadkari working out a majority for a BJP-led government.

The BJP claims it has support of 22 MLAs, including those from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP).

Congress MLAs are saying that they could have enlisted support of these two regional parties, only if the party high command had set the ball rolling earlier.

It may well be too late now.