India's Congress plagued by crises

BARELY two months after it was vanquished in parliamentary elections, India's Congress party has been hit by a series of convulsions that threaten to further weaken it.

Over the last few days, regional leaders have revolted, legislators in some states have joined rivals and the Congress alliance with the ruling National Conference party in Jammu and Kashmir has broken, all before a round of state assembly elections due later this year.

Analysts said that although some of the churn was expected after the spectacular defeat of the Congress in national elections which saw it win a historic low of 44 seats, it was difficult to predict how the wounded party would pick itself up from the latest crises.

The Congress party's troubles have come from states where its performance in national elections was shockingly poor.

Over the weekend, the Congress and the National Conference decided to end their alliance stitched in 2009 and fight state elections in the Himalayan region due at the end of this year separately.

The alliance had been tenuous on the ground and lost all six state seats in the national elections, with the two parties blaming each other for not working to help their common cause.

Reports also emerged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opened talks with Congress legislators in Delhi state to cobble a majority and form a government in the national capital territory.

The BJP and its ally have 31 seats in the 70-member assembly and need five more to secure a majority.

The Congress has eight seats and had supported the Aam Aadmi Party's short-lived government before federal rule was imposed in February.

In the western Maharashtra state, senior minister Narayan Rane quit his post saying he was upset with the central Congress leadership for not making him chief minister as promised when he joined in 2005.

Maharashtra faces state elections later this year.

In the eastern state of Assam, Health Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma quit over differences with the chief minister there and analysts fear his revolt could split the Congress.

In neighbouring West Bengal, three Congress legislators joined the ruling Trinamool Congress party while there are reports of a rebellion in the ruling Congress in Haryana state as well.

Haryana is also due to elect a new assembly later this year.

The Congress sought to play down the troubles and tried to explain some of it as triggered by individual ambitions.

"For some time, some individuals have had differences with their chief ministers.

But personal ambition cannot be accommodated in this way," spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

But analysts are not so sure.

They said the Congress has been weakened by the massive election defeat and is not well-equipped to deal with the problem now.

"The Congress is finding itself undergoing a process of churning and reshaping," said Professor Suhas Palshikar, who teaches political science at Pune University.

This article was first published on July 24, 2014.
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