Congress’ hall of fame had yet another addition in the last week of December. The city has produced some extraordinary Congress leaders who have been instrumental in the party’s growth by using their connections with the financial capital’s rich and famous, but none have been as successful as Sanjay Nirupam in putting the Mumbai Congress on the national map.
In fact, not many people in the country knew that the megapolis had an independent and ‘buzzing’ Congress organisation like the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) until the recent controversy over its magazine. Thanks to its president Nirupam and his team, who have been editing the party mouthpiece, ‘Congress Darshan’, the MRCC shot to national fame as the party marked its 131st Foundation Day on December 28.
Of course, Nirupam doesn’t see this in the same spirit. Call it his bad luck — the MRCC chief fumed over the media attention because it came for all wrong reasons. Massive bloopers in two successive editions of the party mouthpiece caused immense embarrassment and damage to the Congress. While the December issue had injudicious articles on the late Jawaharlal Nehru and Sonia Gandhi, the November issue had content that raised questions over Nehru’s knowledge of history, his rise to the PM’s post and the late Indira Gandhi’s troubled marriage.
Nirupam had no proper explanation to offer for the blunder, but he apologised for the grave mistake and promised no further goof-ups. However, the gesture did not spare him a rebuttal from the Congress or jibes from the BJP, which thanked him for telling the ‘truth’ that the Congress had refuted for decades. Nirupam continues to be the butt of jokes outside and inside the party even now. But being a source for amusement should not bother him any longer. What really dogs him is his shakier-than-ever position as MRCC president, thanks to the controversy.
Nirupam’s adversaries are working overtime to break the firewall that his well-wishers in New Delhi have raised around him. The same well-wishers had inducted him in the Congress ten years ago, ignoring the anti-Sonia articles he had written as the prolific editor of the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece. But his tainted past is back to haunt him. He has been cornered by warring Mumbai Congress leaders, who, for the first time in many years, have come together to pursue a single agenda: to displace Nirupam.
It is difficult to predict a winner in the fight at this point in time, primarily because the Congress high command is expected to be very cautious in taking any step forward. Nirupam was made the chief because the party wanted him to consolidate North Indian votes, which had shifted significantly to the BJP in 2014. People close to developments believe that the North Indian factor could greatly help Nirupam save his skin, though many others in the party think that Nirupam’s presence in MRCC could also drive a large section of Maharashtrians — including Marathi Dalits, who stayed with the Congress even during the Modi wave — away from the party in the 2017 BMC polls.
Making the decision will be a difficult task for the Congress high command. The party is expected to bear in mind as to how a decision related to MRCC chief’s office could also change political discourse in the Sena and BJP camps. Traditionally, in the BMC polls, most Maharashtrians have been voting for the Sena, whereas North Indians get split between the Congress, the BJP and Samajwadi Party. The trend changed in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, when the BJP walked away with loads of North Indian votes. The BJP is probably expecting to achieve this feat again next year, but the Congress could very well spoil the BJP’s dream by continuing with Nirupam in the hot seat. This would also translate into a benefit for the Sena, which has made the most of the Congress’ tacit support in the past.
Another aspect that cannot be ignored is finding an alternative to Nirupam. The question is, who among the leaders - who had refused to lead MRCC in view of the Congress’ poorest show so far - will volunteer to take up the tricky job now.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org