Former Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev’s exit from the Congress hardly comes as a surprise. The latest entrant in the Congress’ growing list of young leaders jumping ship is further evidence of what is fast becoming an accepted reality — India’s grand old party is imploding, falling apart like a pack of cards in a wild storm.
After the departure of Priyanka Chaturvedi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, Jitin Prasada, it was Sushmita Dev who left the party. She has joined the Trinamool Congress without making any “ideological compromises”. Then there’s the perennially unhappy Sachin Pilot, an unsure Deepender Hooda, and an inscrutable Milind Deora — all strengthening beliefs about a massive crisis in the Congress, their seeming disaffection a sign of the deep rut.
These are bright, articulate politicians who were seen as part of a new team that Rahul Gandhi was building. But their disillusionment tells a different story about the Congress’ future – about the idea of a young Congress collapsing.
Sure, patience and loyalty are important virtues in politics. But there is something to be said about the inability of the current Congress leadership to satisfy the ambitions and aspirations of its young go-getters, most of whom seem tired of being out-of-power, twiddling their thumbs while they wait for Rahul Gandhi to take charge of the ship once again.
The primary concern
There are many speculations about what prompted Sushmita Dev, a prominent and fiery Congress voice from Assam whose father Santosh Mohan Dev was also a popular leader from the state, to leave the party her family has been loyal to.
Like many others, Dev probably grew impatient waiting in the wings, with her party performing disastrously in the state and national election one after another. She lost her own constituency and family turf in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, largely because of the difficult position she was in with the Congress’ stand on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and with her area in Barak Valley being largely Bengali-dominated. Dev was also unhappy about not getting a say in candidate selection from her region in the assembly election earlier this year. Moreover, her term as the Mahila Congress president was also coming to an end.
‘What next for me’ is perhaps the question Dev found herself asking. Just like many others who left the Congress.
This concern doesn’t really apply to the famed ‘G23’, a rebellion group of sorts in the Congress comprising senior leaders whose time in active politics is nearly over. They can serve more in an advisory role and aren’t likely to jump ship to another party given their loyalties to the Congress.
But the young turks — most of whom are from ‘Congress families’ — leaving the party signals a bigger crisis. This generation is the present and the future of the party. And with prominent faces from this batch gone, the already uncertain future of the Congress looks even more grim.
At the heart of this abandonment and disillusionment is a deep-seated concern about their political future, considering the Congress’ bleaker fortunes and the fact that many leaders feel they are getting a raw deal.
Yes, politicians like Scindia, Dev, Prasada and others have had it easy in terms of climbing up the political ladder and gaining prominence in the party owing to the political legacies they got in gift.
But politics is as much about winning elections and being in power, as it is about serving people. Why would any of these leaders want to be in politics if all they get to do is remain in the Opposition and also not wield any real power within their parties?
None of these ‘deserters’ are liabilities. They are all articulate and electorally savvy politicians who are influencers and important faces of a party in crisis.
The bigger problem for the Congress is not that it is currently out of power, but that it seems to slip deeper and deeper into an abyss, with no sign of recovery on the anvil. A fact obviously not lost on the party’s young, fiery and ambitious leaders.
And yet again, what Dev’s exodus points to is the complete inability of the party leadership to keep its house in order and to retain talent. The Gandhis’ self-obsession that makes them see people quitting the party as a vindication of their perception about them lacking ethics prohibits them from looking within and reflecting on what is going wrong.
With these high-profile exits, Rahul Gandhi’s Congress is collapsing even before it could be built. In this under-renovation Congress, some crucial pillars are now missing. And what remains is the old-guard, which doesn’t exhibit any capacity or strategy to stand up to the politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
In July 2018, Rahul Gandhi held a special interaction with women journalists at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre. Coordinating and leading the interaction, as important gen-next faces of the party were three women members of the Congress — Priyanka Chaturvedi, Sushmita Dev and Divya Spandana. The fact that three years down the line, none of them are with the party says a lot.
And yet, the Congress top command goes on as if it doesn’t quite care and that all that really matters is that everyone in the party continues to pledge loyalty to The Family. Kapil Sibal says the party has its “eyes wide shut”. Unfortunately, it is worse — the Congress is in the dangerous and slippery “sochna kya jo bhi hoga dekha jayega” (why think, we’ll see what happens) mode.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)