The Congress saga of non-appointments turning to crushing disappointments continues with Haryana MLA Kuldip Bishnoi’s vote against the party in the recent Rajya Sabha elections. Apparently, he had sought a meeting with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi recently and even told Ajay Maken not to count on his vote if this meeting did not happen. Yet, despite this veiled warning followed by some not-so-veiled tweets on social media, Rahul Gandhi did not meet Bishnoi. According to Rahul’s office, one reason for this was that he did not want to set a precedent for every disgruntled leader to blackmail him. Perhaps he also thought that Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Haryana stalwart, had it under control. 

That is sound logic no doubt, but not when you look at the current state of the Congress where every last standing leader is important as is every vote they could represent. The Congress already has the examples of Himanta Biswa Sarma and Jagan Reddy before it. Two state satraps who were ignored by Rahul Gandhi and have gone on to win states and become chief ministers in their own rights. That Sarma is now a rising leader in the BJP and has more or less decimated the Congress in Assam only adds salt to the wounds.

Despite these two examples, the Congress maintains that not every leader is a Sarma or a Jagan and cannot blackmail the leadership into meetings and darshans. They cite the example of Hardik Patel who arguably is not of the same stature as Jagan and Himanta but was definitely throwing a giant sized tantrum before his exit. Just last month, Hardik Patel left with a similar grouse—that he had not been able to meet the party leadership in Delhi, and the state leadership did nothing more than organise chicken sandwiches for any central leader that may be dropping in. For better or worse, Hardik had been wooed by the Congress as a Patel leader. Apparently, he failed to live up to his utility and the Congress leadership is not mourning his loss.  

However, as Bishnoi’s case has shown, there cannot be a blanket policy on not-appeasing disgruntled leaders. That attitude works if the leadership is in a position of authority, in a Narendra Modi or an Indira Gandhi set up. Or even during UPA 1 when Sonia Gandhi had complete control of both the party and the government. It does not work at a time when the leadership is at its weakest as the Gandhis undoubtedly are today. Added to the optics of an inaccessible leadership is the party’s recent list of Rajya Sabha nominations which was basically an exercise in rewarding loyalists. Again, this is something that works well when the High Command is in full control, not when it is under siege. The G23 is currently divided as the Gandhis have succeeded in creating a divide by rewarding some like Hooda, Mukul Wasnik and Vivek Tankha while ignoring the more vocal ones like Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibbal. The last mentioned has quit the Congress for the SP but the rest are still chafing. However, from the Gandhis’ point of view they have handled the G23 quite well. But there is a larger fight at hand and for that they need to bring the entire Congress (or what’s left of it) together under their leadership. It is a tough ask, especially when they don’t have very many goodies or Rajya Sabha nominations to offer. But then again, that’s what leadership is all about.