Congress’s pick of Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as the next Himachal CM nips in the bud factional fights that could have broken out in the state. Himachal has been the only bright spot for Congress in a long time. With three Himachal Congress leaders – Sukhu, Mukesh Agnihotri and ex-CM Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh – vying for the top job, things could have easily fallen apart.
But in electing Sukhu – a self-made politician who led the Congress campaign – as CM and Agnihotri as deputy CM, Congress has managed to accommodate two of the three leaders. Plus, passing over Pratibha Singh was a good idea to neutralise BJP’s dynasty barb. That said, factionalism continues to be a big problem for Congress across states. It was the single biggest factor in the party’s Punjab disaster earlier this year where the tug of war between Navjot Singh Sidhu and ex-CM Charanjit Singh Channi wrecked its campaign.
Similarly, the party also faces factionalism in big-ticket elections next year. In Karnataka, where Congress is well-positioned to mount a serious challenge to BJP, the party needs the two factions led by Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar to pull together. It remains to be seen if party president and Karnataka leader Mallikarjun Kharge can facilitate this. In MP, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh have to keep their personal interests in check, while in Rajasthan another Ashok Gehlot versus Sachin Pilot dogfight could spell deep trouble for GOP. Unlike BJP and PM Modi, the lack of a charismatic, vote-pulling central leadership in Congress means the party high command can’t easily discipline warring factions. But Himachal has shown keeping factionalism in check will be key to the party’s prospects in direct electoral contests with BJP. Perhaps this rather than the Bharat Jodo Yatra needs greater attention.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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