Congress Slips Back Into its Own Shell

Rahul Gandhi, President of Congress party, speaks with his mother and leader of the party Sonia Gandhi during Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in New Delhi, India, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

The old guard is back at the helm in the Congress. Two years after Sonia Gandhi vacated the party presidentship to airdrop Rahul Gandhi on to the chair, the senior leaders have ensured that the grand old party’s experiment with new age ideas have been dumped into the attic for a few more years.

It also proved beyond doubt that the Congress is light years away from handing over the baton of leadership to anyone from outside the family. Media reports suggested that the decision to bring back Sonia as the interim president came after other names failed to get the support of even one percent of the Congress Working Committee.

Read: Without a Gandhi, Congress is a Dead Duck

At a time when the nation is looking up to the Congress to lead a credible opposition in both houses of Parliament, the party leadership’s tantrum-ridden approach to other political parties, its own rank and file and even its senior statesmen is actually symptomatic of what is wrong with leadership.

Sample some of these instances: Rahul Gandhi suddenly decides to quit but doesn’t ensure that a successor is installed immediately. The result: The ruling BJP enjoys unbridled authority in the Parliament and even on the contentious Article 370 abrogation, the Congress speaks in many voices leading to more embarrassment.

The Gandhi family ignored the Bharat Ratna award ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan where a career Congressman was being felicitated. By doing so, they gave the BJP full freedom to own the event as well as the awardee though it would be stupid to expect Pranab Mukherjee to even consider crossing over at this point of his life.

A third instance was prolonged huddle that the party went into once the government abrogated Article 370. By the time they arrived at an official stand, the damage had already been done with several of the younger leaders actually taking the position that they supported the move, while opposing the manner in which it was accomplished.

So, where does all of this leave Sonia Gandhi at this juncture? Media reports suggests that a complete overhaul of the Working Committee could be on the anvil. Would it mean that the senior sycophants come back with more power or would there be a clear move towards youth with fresh ideas and more action on the ground?

And what about accountability, a word that gained precedence following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation? Several leaders reportedly brought this up at the CWC meet and many even suggested that a younger leadership should be tasked with reviving the party, a move that found instant resonance with the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Capt. Amrinder Singh.

Party sources even confirmed that Rahul Gandhi even suggested that they widened their search for party leader beyond the CWC which is where the senior leaders took it upon themselves the task of avoiding a split in the Congress and requested Sonia Gandhi to step in, even if it was only for a brief period of time.

While it obviously signaled the party’s dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi family, what also became obvious is that the family itself wasn’t eager to let go, contrary to the statements from Rahul Gandhi that he would not want any member of the family to be considered for the position.

The old guard is quick to point out that it was Sonia who pulled the party out of a morass in 1998 and ensured two electoral wins in 2004 and 2009. Of course, it was the same leadership that presided over its annihilation during the Modi wave of 2014 that was built on hierarchical politics leading to corruption at all levels in the Congress rule.

With a spate of state assembly elections scheduled in the next two years, the Congress would be hoping that Sonia Gandhi can hold things together. Having helmed the party for close to two decades now, there is every possibility that the matriarch will hold the family together.

Whether she can create a new identity for the Congress in the current Hindutva driven narrative is the question that would continue to haunt.