Azad jumps on ‘leave Congress’ bandwagon; exodus continues unabated


The exodus of senior Congress leaders, once seen as mainstays of the party, continues unabated with Ghulam Nabi Azad jumping on the “leave Congress” bandwagon at a time when the party is struggling to shore up its dwindling electoral fortunes.

Several leaders, many of them part of the party’s highest decision-making body Congress Working Committee (CWC), have exited recently, citing reasons ranging from the party’s lack of ground-level presence to its leadership’s shortcomings.

Azad resigned from the party on Friday ahead of the organisational polls, terming the Congress “comprehensively destroyed” and accusing the leadership of committing “fraud” on the party in the name of “sham” internal elections.

Delivering another blow to the embattled party that has seen a series of high-profile exits, including that of Kapil Sibal, Ashwani Kumar and Sunil Jakhar, in the recent past, Azad wrote a no-holds-barred letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, detailing his grievances.

Frustrated G-23 leaders

Azad’s exit comes months after another “Group of 23” (G-23) leader, Sibal, resigned from the party and filed his nomination as a Samajwadi Party-backed independent candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls from Uttar Pradesh. He was elected to the Upper House of Parliament in June.

The G-23 members had written to Sonia Gandhi, seeking organisational reforms, in 2020. The Congress has failed to stem the exodus of leaders despite the promise of reforms, including structural changes and prominence to youngsters, at its brainstorming session in Rajasthan’s Udaipur in May.

Two influential leaders — Sunil Jakhar and Hardik Patel — quit the party in quick succession this year. Jakhar, a former Punjab Congress chief with ties with the party spanning three generations, quit even as the party’s Chintan Shivir was on in May.

Patel, a young leader who came into prominence with the Patidar quota agitation in Gujarat, was elevated as the working president of the state unit in July 2020 as part of efforts to strengthen the organisation and strongly take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its stronghold. He subsequently quit the Congress and launched a scathing attack on its leadership.

The Congress is seen making little effort to woo its leaders back and Rahul Gandhi has been saying for quite some time in party forums that anyone who succumbs to the pressure of the BJP in this “fight for ideology” is free to leave.

Earlier this week, Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill quit the party, alleging that sycophancy is eating into the organisation like “termites”. In a letter to Sonia Gandhi, Shergill resigned as the party’s national spokesperson, saying the primary reason behind his decision was that “the ideology and the vision of the current decision makers of the Congress is no longer in sync with the aspirations of the youth and a modern India”.

Key leaders leave party

Earlier this year, RPN Singh, a former Union minister, a CWC member and the son of late Congress leader CPN Singh, joined the ranks of Jitin Prasada and Jyotiraditya Scindia, both CWC members who quit the party to join the BJP over the last couple of years.

While Prasada is the son of Jitendra Prasada, Scindia’s father was Madhavrao Scindia, both Congress veterans. Singh’s exit came just months after Sushmita Dev, another young Congress leader and the daughter of former Union minister Santosh Mohan Dev, quit the party to join the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC).

The story of senior leaders leaving the Congress began ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the party lost Haryana heavyweights Birender Singh and Rao Inderjit Singh. Both went on to become ministers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first cabinet.

There have been other examples as well. Former Assam Congress stalwart Himanta Biswa Sarma joined the BJP in 2015 and climbed the saffron ladder to become the chief minister of the state.

Other leaders who left the grand old party

Some other prominent Congress leaders and former ministers in the UPA government who quit the party and joined the BJP are SM Krishna and Jayanti Natarajan. Krishna is a former Karnataka chief minister and Natarajan was the Union environment minister during the UPA regime.

The Congress also lost once Gandhi family loyalist and the scion of the erstwhile Amethi royal family, Sanjay Sinh, to the BJP last year. Former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane and then leader of opposition in the state Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil quit the party to join the BJP in 2019.

The Congress also suffered a jolt in Assam in 2019 when its chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, Bhubaneswar Kalita, joined the BJP. He is now a Rajya Sabha member from the state. Also in the northeast, the Congress suffered setbacks when its former chief minister in Manipur N Biren Singh joined the BJP in 2016, citing differences with then incumbent Ibobi Singh.

In Arunachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Pema Khandu left the Congress in 2016 before the Assembly polls. In Uttar Pradesh too, ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, former state Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi quit the party.

Other prominent faces who left the Congress in the recent past include Tamil actor Khushboo Sundar and former Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan, both of whom joined the BJP. While the leaders quitting the Congress have cited various reasons, from not being heard by the leadership to leaving for better prospects, the party has repeatedly called out their weak ideological moorings.

Published on

August 26, 2022

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