Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

Why the Congress has never been great at changing chief ministers

The Congress has lost at least three popular young leaders in the past few years over the issue of chief minister ship

Selecting chief ministers or changing them midway has usually been a turbulent process for the Congress party, with local political aspirations, strong contenders (and their clout) coming in the way of smooth transfer of power.

The Congress government in Rajasthan plunged into a major crisis on Sunday evening after at least 83 MLAs loyal to Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot didn’t attend the proposed meeting of the legislative group and instead gathered at the residence of a minister and threatened to resign if Sachin Pilot — a nominee of the party High Command — is made the CM.

A similar script played out 2227 kms away in 2008. The sitting Congress chief minister of Puducherry, N Rangaswamy, was forcibly removed to appoint V Vaithilingam, a nominee of the Congress High Command.

In 2011, Rangaswamy left the Congress party, formed NR Congress, and swept to power. Rangaswamy is the current CM of the Union Territory (in partnership with the BJP) after the last Congress government collapsed midway in 2020 and a President’s Rule was imposed on Puducherry.

The Congress has lost at least three popular young leaders in the past few years over the issue of chief ministership.

In 2009, when YS Rajasekhara Reddy died in a helicopter crash, the Congress overlooked the claims of his son, Jaganmohan, and appointed K Rosaiah as the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh. When Jagan’s plea to undertake a Yatra in the state was rejected and the frustrated leader was left with one option: to quit the Congress and form his own party. He went on to become the CM in 2019.

Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia was instrumental in Congress’ victory in the 2017 assembly polls that brought the party to power in the state after a gap of 15 years. The High Command, however, overlooked his legitimate claims and instilled Kamal Nath as the Madhya Pradesh CM. Two years later, the government collapsed after Scindia shifted to the BJP. He later joined the union cabinet .

The Congress also learnt its lessons the hard way in Punjab when it tried to replace CM Amrinder Singh with first, Navjot Singh Sidhu before deciding on Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit face. The hasty process of changing the CM with barely six months left for the poll resulted in chaos.

Singh left the Congress, giving it a body blow ahead of the poll and the Congress reduced to just 18 seats in the 2022 election, while the state of Punjab got a new government of Aam Aadmi Party.

Meanwhile, the BJP successfully changed its CM in Uttarakhand twice, and retained power; and last year, in preparation for the 2022 Gujarat elections, it changed its entire cabinet.

If Rajiv Gandhi’s public rebuke of Andhra Pradesh CM T Anjaiah in 1982 led to the party’s defeat in the next assembly election, the Congress’s failure in addressing the feud between Tarun Gogoi and Himanta Biswa Sarma, an influential young leader, led to another political disaster in Assam. The party overlooked Himanta’s claims and stuck with Gogoi, going horiibly wrong in assessing the ground situation.

In the battle between ageing Gogoi and young turk Himanta, the Congress, which otherwise tries to promote young leaders, sidelined the latter. Himanta Biswa Sarma quit the party, famously accusing Rahul Gandhi of giving more attention to his pet dog. He has since emerged as the most powerful BJP leader in the entire north east and is now the Assam CM.

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