On 27th September 2021, as the nation commemorated the 90th martyrdom of one of the greatest revolutionaries the country has ever seen; Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, the AICC headquarters in Delhi was all set to chant the most reverberated slogan of the decade after “Inquilab”; “Azaadi”. Two young and vibrant faces in Indian politics, Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani joined the folds of Congress party ending a month-long speculation and rumours.
Kanhaiya Kumar, who was the face of various student movements and is a fierce orator, rose to the fame from his days in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) as a student leader and quickly climbed the ranks in the Communist Party of India (CPI) to become the National Executive Council member at a very young age. Meanwhile Jignesh Mevani, a Dalit Activist and an independent MLA from Vadgam constituency of Gujarat. With the induction of these young bloods to the party, Congress hopes to revive its lost fortunes and build a credible lineup of leaders at a point when they face an erosion of their ranks and files to other political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). Other than having a prominent face for the party in Gujarat who can attract young voters, Congress will be eyeing for the consolidation of Dalit votes and filling up the leadership vacuum with the induction of Mevani into its folds. In the long run, the presence of Mevani might turn helpful if Congress is able to project him as a national leader from the Dalit community. Meanwhile Kanhaiya, who belongs to the Bhumihar community, is expected to split the upper caste votes and consolidate anti-BJP votes in favour of Congress in the state of Bihar. One can find numerous such windows of possibilities, however they seem to be easier said than done.
It’s quite clear that the aforementioned development has created ripples across the political spectrum of the country, but the pivotal question is whether it can be a solution for the crisis the Congress is currently facing. Even though Kanhaiya and Jignesh, two of the youngest politicians to have raised their voice against BJP government in the centre and the Sanghparivar forces, the new inductions seem more like a treatment over the skin for an ailment which is deep inside. With the specter of factionalism haunting the Congress party both in National and State levels, it is high time for the central leadership to come up with a resolution mechanism to hold the fort, at least in the states where the party is in power and to revamp the AICC. What the grand old party of India ideally should be doing is to resolve the existing leadership issue at the national level by conducting elections which have been long due and are required to reinstate the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC) at the state level, which in most of the states, are in precarious conditions. Further, attention should be given to the infights and factionalism within the state Congress machinery especially in the states like Kerala, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh or even Karnataka where the party still has a considerable vote share and cadre strength. Moreover, the central leadership needs to also consider a reconciliation with the revisionist leaders within the party, popularly known as the G23.
Considering the case of CPI, which does not have a significant presence elsewhere in the country than Kerala, the exit of Kanhaiya will not have much of an effect on the party or the left politics of whatever is remaining in the country. Even when Kumar actively campaigned for the Bihar state assembly elections and contested for the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, there wasn’t much of a benefit for the party other than the media attention that he captured personally. When it comes to Kanhaiya Kumar and his career in politics, Congress provides more venues than CPI in the existing political situation. There are speculations that he has been offered a Rajya Sabha seat and the charge of Bihar PCC as a reward for changing house which we have to wait to see how it will materialize on the ground.
If the speculations get it right about the offered Rajya Sabha seat, the sole gainer in this move will be the ex-JNU student leader. Other than the media attention and the sensationalization, the new inductions do not have the potential to revive the Congress party or to help it in the upcoming state assembly elections. What Congress as a party lack is not just leaders but a program or in other words a narrative to run in elections or to compete with the mighty machinery of BJP. Acknowledging the fact that the Congress is the only party next to BJP to have a nationwide presence, it’s still a bit ambitious to consider that just the induction of two young leaders will save their fortunes.
It’s not the first time that ex-JNU student leaders, who came to the forefront through the left student organisations, joined the folds of the Congress party. Devi Prasad Tripathi, Shakeel Ahmad Khan and Mohit Pandey are a few among the list. A look back into their political careers might give Kanhaiya a fair idea about the space he will be provided within the party structure in the long run. For Mevani, who has won the Vadgam seat with a majority of around 20000 votes with support of the Congress in the 2017 Gujarat State Assembly elections, this change seems to be a safe bet. On the contrary, for Kanhaiya Kumar who constantly referred to Bhagat Singh as his motivation for being in politics, the path ahead will not be as easy as it seems, both politically and ideologically.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
Goutham K A is Project Associate at CPPR. He is a Computer Science and Engineering graduate from Government Engineering College, Thrissur and currently pursuing post-graduation in Political Science and International Relations from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Goutham is a frequent traveller, photography enthusiast and interested in regional, national and international political developments.