NEW DELHI: Two days after BJP nominee Ram Nath Kovind was elected as fourteenth President of India, Senior Congress leader from Gujarat, Shankar Singh Waghela quit the party.

Waghela becoming a rebel was a forgone conclusion when he and his eleven supporters had allegedly voted for President Kovind over Congress nominee Meira Kumar.

The resignation marked the second major revolt in the political career of the 77-year old Waghela who had quit BJP in 1996 to become the Chief Minister with support from the Congress party.

And yet more than Waghela’s rebellion, it is the Congress’s response to it now that appears more perplexing. Waghela, while announcing his separation from the Congress party, alleged that he was ‘not allowed to fight BJP’, suggesting that some congressmen had colluded with the BJP. Strange, as it may sound, he was a prominent state leader for many years enjoying key positions like Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly and Union Minister of Textiles.

The official statement of the party is now that Waghela had not been sacked but it was his decision to part ways with the Congress. Clearly, the Congress does not want to antagonize the upper caste Kshatriya community. Gujarat’s Congress’ age-old mantra for success had been KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) but the Congress party seems to have forgotten the last three sections of KHAM in these two decades and eventually lost complete power in the state.

Now Waghela may not join the BJP but will impact the Congress party through a third front that will split the anti-BJP votes.

Under Waghela’s leadership, the party could not bounce back to power for two decades. One fails to understand why the Congress gave such a long rope to the leader through the years, and despite fairly common knowledge of his proximity to BJP leaders.Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ascendance to power, Waghela hardly lead any mass agitation agains the BJP — including during the Muslim pogrom of 2002 , or on the CAG report of undue favors to Raliance and Adani, or the Una anti-Dalit atrocity of 2016.

The Congress party’s response to PM Modi’s ascendance in the state is probably single handedly responsible for the loss of the traditional Muslim, Dalit support across the country. Despite the absence of any third party, and consistently polling around 40% vote share in successive elections, the Congress could not stop PM Modi. Given his limitation, the high command should have cut Waghela to size much before his resignation. Such rare luxury enjoyed by Waghela in Gujarat is not given to any other leader in any other state.

The Waghela incident has brought the focus back on the important question raised by Congress leader Salman Khurshid earlier this month. It took merely a fortnight for Khurshid to stand vindicated on his remarks that the RSS had infiltrated the Congress party. As the details of Presidential polling emerge, it was clear that many Congress lawmakers across the country had not voted for the official party candidate Meira Kumar. Gujarat, Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra were some of the states that received lower than expected votes for the former Lok Sabha Speaker.

The July 9 interview of Khurshid given to the National Herald was perhaps first ever self criticism by any senior leader of the Grand Old Party. Khurshid had minced no words when naming former colleagues who had crossed sides and joined BJP. Claiming that he had warned of some leaders joining BJP, he said, “I had named Jagadambika Pal, the Bahugunas (as RSS minded people) but I was silenced. I was told they were good party workers.”

Khurshid was particularly harsh on former P.M. PV Narasimha Rao, without naming him. “The first time we got an idea was after the Babri demolition when some leaders began saying that we should not use the word ‘secular’ because it sent out a wrong message,” Khurshid said.

Narasimha Rao, who had taken over the reins of the party after Rajeev Gandhi’s assassination, was known for his closeness to RSS and who many blame for not protecting the Babri Masjid. Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, a former Minister too alleged that, “The Babri Masjid remains the one single factor that alienated Rao from the rest of the Congress. He overestimated his own influence and the clout he had with the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)”. In his book, senior Journalist Kuldeep Nayar had mentioned that Rao performed Puja during the demolition of the Babri Mosque.

Narasimha Rao was chosen as the PM despite his RSS links sidelining deserving stalwarts like Sharad Pawar and Arjun Singh of that time. He is believed to have opened India to liberalization, privatization and globalisation but ruined the party to the point where recovery has been difficult, almost impossible. The Congress eventually sidelined him after he completed his five year stint as PM but not before he damaged the party to a greater extent.

The BJP for obvious reasons did not put enough pressure for a no-confidence motion against the then minority government led by Narasimha Rao.

Although many leaders from all parties have recently joined BJP, the Upper castes of the Congress party —especially those in high posts — seems to be extremely comfortable switching between Congress and BJP as their individual ideologies do not change much. Or as Khurshid puts it, they were ‘good RSS people’. Here are some such individuals whom the Congress gave a long rope.

Narayan Dutt Tiwari: three time CM of Uttar Pradesh, one time CM of Uttarakhand and a former Governor of Andhra Pradesh had quit the Congress and named his party as Tiwari congress in 1990s. But when he came back to the party, he was given plum positions including Governor of Andhra Pradesh. His infamous sex scandal right in the Raj Bhavan dented the party’s image. Action, however, was limited to removing him from the post of Governor. Tiwari quit the Congress party again and joined BJP ahead of the Uttarakhand Assembly elections in 2017.

The Bahuguna Siblings: Former Congress leaders Rita Bahuguna Joshi and her brother Vijay Bahuguna enjoyed plum positions in the party despite having no mass following. They were simply given prominence due to percentage of Brahmin population in U.P and Uttarakhand.Hailing from the Bahuguna dynasty, Vijay was made the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand while his sister remained a key politician in the Uttar Pradesh Congress. Rita Bahuguna is now is part of the BJP Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi’s cabinet having joined the BJP ahead of the UP assembly elections in March. Her remarks against Mayawati on the rape case did irreparable damage to the Congress party.

Jagadambika Pal:. Pal was a member of the Lok Sabha and also Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Kalyan Singh government was dismissed in 1998. The Congress party reposed considerable trust in him but ahead of the 2014 general elections he left the party, and joined the BJP. He was known to have close links with the BJP in UP but despite this the Congress high command continued to repose trust in him.

Days ahead of the 2014 general elections, senior Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi stirred a hornets nest when he questioned the reservation provisions to SC/ST and OBC and demanded that the provisions be reviewed and urged Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to lead the review. This was totally against the traditional Congress stand on affirmative action. The Congress party stopped short of reprimanding him, merely dismissing his remarks as personal. But Dwivedi's statement was widely discussed in the media and some party leaders feel, it made a deep impact on the Dalit and OBC voters of the party. The party sank to its lowest total in the history by winning mere 44 seats and just over 19% votes.

Dwivedi did not stop here. In Jan 2015, he praised PM Modi ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections and here too the party did not sack him from the General secretory post.

As BJP continues to consolidate, winning state after state, the Congress party who is uniting the opposition parties, is in tatters. The BJP continues to show that it is a party of Savarna or so-called upper castes. All key ministries in the Union cabinet — Defense, Home, External Affairs, Railways, Finance, Transport, HRD, I&B etc— are held by Savarnas mainly Brahmins. Most of the recent chief minister of the party are Savarnas - Yogi Adityanath, Mohanlal Khattar, Devendra Phadanavis, to name a few. Moreover, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath’s coronation has led to disproportionate representations of the Savarnas - Brahmins and Thakurs. Half of the recent appointments of 312 law officers in the state are reportedly from the Brahmin Community.

As against this the Congress has no idea of who and what it stands for. No one appears to be in charge, as individual voices seem to have taken over the collective conscience and consciousness of India’s main opposition party.