It is one manifestation of the party spirit that has come to haunt political leaders in India. Come elections and the lure of the party ticket unleashes the worst in the flock. It is a malaise that afflicts most parties in varying degrees. Mr Pranab Mukherjee was not the first president of the West Bengal unit of the Congress to have faced the nasty side of the partisan spirit. Many of his predecessors, including Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury and Mr Ajit Panja, had experienced much the same or even worse. What is truly appalling is the leaders' responses to such scandalous behaviour by partymen. Instead of punishing the errant party workers, they seek to laugh the embarrassments away. Ms Ambika Soni did the party no good by attributing the violence towards Mr Mukherjee to the 'overenthusiasm that Congressmen at the lower levels usually show before the elections'. This certainly is no way to show the party's sympathy for Mr Mukherjee. Worse, remarks like this would be seen as the leadership's way to condone the wrong. It is not difficult, though, to see why the party takes a rather lenient view of such gross indiscipline. Action against leaders who are usually behind such crude party games could end up triggering worse problems. With the party yet to recover from the revolt of Mr K. Karunakaran in Kerala, the leaders would not risk any trouble in Bengal.
Ironically, the scandal at the Congress bhavan came at a promising time for the party. After a long time, the party's fortunes in Bengal seem to be on the upswing, thanks partly to the Congress's return to power at the Centre at the head of a coalition. The split in the Trinamool Congress and the alliance between the Congress and the anti-left coalition led by Calcutta's mayor, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, for next month's civic polls in the city reflect the changing political equations. The newfound alliance is also seen as a forerunner of a Congress-led front that would challenge the left in next year's assembly polls. The last thing that the Congress needed now was an ugly show of personal and factional rivalries. No wonder that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was quick to use the incident in order to warn the people against a return of the 'Congress terror' of the Seventies. But then, the Congress has a history, not just in Bengal, of being its own enemy.