For most of the Congress’s history, the ‘high command’ rode roughshod over the party’s state units. No matter what the leaders or workers in the states did, it was the Central leadership’s will that always prevailed. Chief ministers belonging to the party or presidents of the state units would be peremptorily removed if they lost the high command’s confidence. So, when rebel legislators of the party issued an ‘ultimatum’ to the ‘high command’ to replace Tarun Gogoi as Assam’s chief minister, they broke the old rules. The rebels had mounted an offensive against Mr Gogoi immediately after the Lok Sabha elections, in which the party suffered a huge defeat. Party rebels in Maharashtra too have thrown up another challenge to the Central leadership. Its interventions in both states did little to stem the rebellions. The ‘high command’ has only itself to blame for the crisis that has now gripped the party’s government in Assam following the resignation of the rebel leader, Himanta Biswa Sarma, from Mr Gogoi’s cabinet. The mess in Mumbai, too, has become stickier with Narayan Rane, senior party leader, quitting the government. Mr Rane and his followers held the chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, responsible for the party’s debacle in Maharashtra in the parliamentary polls and sought his removal.
If the party’s Central leaders are clueless about tackling such revolts, it is a reflection of both the state of the party and the failures of the leadership. The rebels in Assam were apparently outraged after Rahul Gandhi had reiterated his faith in Mr Gogoi. The Central leaders seemed to be unwilling also to remove Mr Chavan only a few months before the assembly elections in the state. No party can act in panic in the face of a factional revolt. But the rebellions in the Congress units in the states point to a deeper malaise. The system of the ‘high command’ lording it over state-level leaders has always been a major problem for the Congress. It encouraged factional squabbles and weakened governance in the states ruled by it. With the party out of power at the Centre and in most of the states, the challenge for the ‘high command’ can only become more daunting in the near future. Nothing short of a drastic overhaul can revive the political fortunes of the party. But the question is whether the party has the will and the ability to initiate a recovery plan.