Sonia Gandhi's cancelled Haryana rally raises more questions about disarray within the Congress

Debobrat Ghose

The Congress' sudden and unexplained cancellation of Sonia Gandhi's rally at Mahendragarh in Haryana this afternoon and subsequent deletion of the tweet related to it, has become fodder in the hands of speculators. This was to be her first public rally after returning to the post of party president in August.

With no reason being given for Sonia's inability to address the rally €" Rahul Gandhi is to address the rally in her stead €" speculation is rife over her health, as well as a possible turf war between the Sonia and Rahul camps within the party.

Whatever the reason for this decision, it brings into sharp focus the growing disarray into which the Congress has been sliding ever since its consecutive defeats in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and several state Assembly elections held in between. Neither of these has helped the party even as it prepares to fight two vital Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra €" both states go to the polls on 21 October.

The Friday rally by Sonia was highly anticipated because it would have been her first public address in a long while. Her last public address was on 12 June in Rae Bareli to thank the voters for electing her in the Lok Sabha election. She had not addressed any public rally in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The last time she had campaigned for an Assembly election was in Telangana on 23 November last year. She had skipped the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.

Haryana: A tough battleground

Her appearance in Mahendragarh would have put to rest at least some of the turbulence that has plagued the party in Haryana. Elaborate arrangements had been made by the party for the public and the media covering the event. The Congress is a house divided in the BJP-ruled Haryana, where veteran leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former party president Ashok Tanwar had been in an open brawl, leading to the latter first being replaced as party president and then eventually resigning from the party. It's an open secret that Hooda is a member of the old guard favoured by Sonia while Tanwar, who remained state party president for five years, was handpicked by Rahul.

The Assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra have posed a tough challenge for the Congress, as on one hand, the party has been facing dissent from its rebel leaders and infighting within state units, and on the other, it has to counter the ruling BJP, which is obviously stronger. Recent campaign rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in Haryana have made the fight tougher for the shaky Congress.

The Congress president was set to campaign for Rao Daan Singh, who is contesting against BJP minister Ram Bilas Sharma. Tanwar's resignation from party's primary membership and then openly announcing his support for young JJP leader Dushyant Chautala have led to an acute crisis within the Haryana Congress. Prior to this, Tanwar had revolted against the party leadership alleging irregularities and corruption in ticket-distribution for Haryana Assembly election and had openly protested outside the Congress chief's residence in New Delhi.

In his four-page resignation letter addressed to Congress president, Tanwar wrote "Congress is going through existential crises, not because of its political opponents but because of serious internal contradiction."

"The condition of Congress on ground in Haryana is very critical, which has got aggravated due to the resignation of Tanwar, who's now supporting Chautala. There were chances that the Congress president might have faced some protests at her rally today, as Tanwar's protest outside her residence didn't solve the problem," a Congress source told Firstpost.

A divided house

Congress is a house divided not just in Haryana, but across the country wherever it still has a sizable presence, including the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where it is in power. The Sonia-Rahul divide runs deep among young leaders, favoured by Rahul, who find themselves cornered €" whether it is Milind Deora in Maharashtra, Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh or Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. Even national leaders such as Shashi Tharoor (who has managed to keep his Lok Sabha seat thrice in a row despite the Congress debacle all around) and Salman Khurshid find themselves without any top post within the party.

In stark contrast is the fate of the old guard €" veterans and staunch Sonia loyalists €" who are securely in the saddle in their respective turfs. These are trusted Sonia lieutenants such as Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh.

This is a sorry state of affairs to convey to the electorate that in the past few Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has clearly chosen strong leadership over any other characteristic a party or a leader may display.

Also See: Ashok Tanwar resigns from Congress ahead of Haryana polls, says grand old party going through 'existential crises'

Ex-Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar announces 'surgical strike' on party ahead of Assembly polls, pledges support to JJP

'Will continue to be Congress worker': Ashok Tanwar resigns from all party posts over irregularities in ticket distribution for Haryana Assembly polls

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