Ashok Chavan, the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra and a veteran leader of the Congress party, resigned from the primary membership of the party on Monday. His resignation, conveyed succinctly through a single line, was directed to Nana Patole, the Chief of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, and the Speaker of the Maharashtra Assembly.
In his letter, Chavan simply stated, “I hereby submit my resignation from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress Party with immediate effect from noon on 12/02/2024.”
Alongside him, Amarnath Rajurkar, a former member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council, whose term recently concluded, also stepped down from all party positions.
These exits come at a challenging time for the Congress, less than three months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, with significant departures both nationally and within Maharashtra. Last week, Baba Siddique, a former minister and Congress MLA in Maharashtra, joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Ajit Pawar, while in January, Milind Deora, a former MP and Union Minister, joined the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde.
Reports suggest that there is a concern within the Congress regarding the possibility of more leaders, particularly those who have been associated closely with figures like Deora and Siddique, following suit over the next few days.
As for Ashok Chavan’s next move, whether he will align with the NCP, Shiv Sena, or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains uncertain. Sources speculate that the BJP might offer him a Rajya Sabha seat, and there are indications that several MLAs may switch sides in the near future.
Meanwhile, Devendra Fadnavis, a senior BJP leader and the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, also hinted at major exits in the near future saying several Congress leaders are in touch with his party.
In response to these developments, Jairam Ramesh, a Congress MP and the General Secretary in charge of communications, took a dig at the leaders who have recently left the party. He used the metaphorical “washing machine” reference, commonly used by Congress to criticise the BJP for allegedly halting investigations against opposition leaders who cross over.
“When friends and colleagues leave a political party that has given them much — perhaps much more they deserved—it is always a matter of anguish. But to those who are vulnerable THAT Washing Machine will always prove more attractive than ideological commitment or personal loyalties. These betrayers don’t realise that their exit opens up vast new opportunities to those whose growth they have always stunted,” he posted on X.
Supriya Shrinate, another Congress member, pointed out that leaders facing cases from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) often join the BJP to evade legal scrutiny. “Today it is very difficult to do opposition politics. If you do not have strong strength and courage, you cannot do opposition politics. This government uses pressure from the ED, and the Income Tax department, and lures leaders with several offers,” she said.
Reacting to Chavan’s departure, Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of Shiv Sena (UBT) and the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, expressed surprise and said, “I am surprised about Ashok Chavan. He was participating in seat distribution until yesterday, and suddenly he switched. I think he has gone for Rajya Sabha. Everyone seems to be thinking of themselves.”
These leaders have left the Congress in the last few years:
In March 2020, Scindia, a four-time MP and former Union minister, parted ways with the Congress. His departure, along with 22 MLAs, led to the collapse of the Congress-led government in Madhya Pradesh. Expressing disillusionment with the party, he cited his inability to serve the people within the Congress.
In June 2021, Prasada, a long-time Congress member, left the party to join the BJP, expressing his belief that the BJP was the only true national political party. Previously seen as a young leader within the Congress, Prasada voiced his dissatisfaction with the political atmosphere in his former party.
Sushmita Dev, a prominent face of the Congress in Assam, departed from the party in August 2021 to join the Trinamool Congress. Her decision stemmed from disagreements with the Congress leadership in Assam, particularly regarding candidate selection, which she felt diminished her political space.
Captain Amarinder Singh
Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh exited the Congress in November 2021 and subsequently formed the Punjab Lok Congress, later merging it with the BJP. Singh criticised the Congress leadership’s decisions, particularly the appointment of Navjot Singh Sidhu as Punjab Congress Committee President.
In January 2022, RPN Singh, a former Union minister and long-time Congress member, joined the BJP ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. Singh cited a perceived shift in the Congress’s ideology and praised the BJP for its focus on national welfare.
Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal left the Congress in May 2022, shortly after advocating for leadership changes within the party. He aimed to unite the opposition against what he viewed as the BJP’s divisive policies.
Jakhar, former Punjab Congress President, resigned from the party in May 2022, criticising Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. He later joined the BJP, raising concerns about the internal functioning of the Congress.
Ghulam Nabi Azad
In August 2022, veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad left the Congress, citing dissatisfaction with the party’s organisational processes and criticising the lack of internal democracy within the Congress. He then formed his own party, the Democratic Progressive Azad Party.
Shergill, a former national spokesperson for the Congress, left the party in August 2022, citing concerns about sycophancy and lack of meritocracy. He joined the BJP later that year.