The Congress on Sunday announced that Sonia Gandhi will continue as interim president beyond August 10, putting to rest all speculation.
She completes one year in the chair today after Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president last year, owning responsibility for the Congress party’s disastrous performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The party blamed the nationwide coronavirus lockdown for its inability to initiate and conclude the process of electing a new president.
The Congress spokesperson said, “Sonia Gandhi-ji is the president and she will continue till such time a proper procedure is implemented and it will be implemented in the not too distant future. It is as simple as that.”
Last year when she was appointed interim president, KC Venugopal, Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation, had this to say: “The CWC unanimously resolved that Sonia Gandhi should take over as interim president pending the election of regular president by the All India Congress Committee (AICC)."
Even hard core supporters of Congress would agree this is stretching the meaning of ‘interim’ a bit too much.
The stalemate continues. A section wants Rahul to be reinstated as Congress president, but either he is reluctant or the ‘Old Guard’, including Sonia, has some reservations.
A section wants Sonia to give Priyanka Gandhi a chance to hold the post of Congress president at an opportune time. Anybody other than someone from the Gandhi family at the helm is an idea whose time hasn’t come yet.
The party’s failure to arrive at any consensus means Sonia has to carry on the mantle for some more time.
Despite her weaknesses, old age and ill health, Sonia has achieved quite a lot in the last year.
Under her leadership, the party formed a Congress government in two states (as a junior partner): Maharashtra and Jharkhand. It managed to save the day in Rajasthan by calling out Sachin Pilot’s bluff (at least as for now).
Her acceptability among senior leaders of the Congress acts as a unifying force, motivating the Old gGuard to make sharper attacks on the Bharatiya Janata Party. The ministers in the erstwhile UPA government and senior leaders like Chidambaram became active and started targeting the Modi government.
The decision to be part of an alliance with the Shiv Sena was not an easy one. The ideological differences between the two parties and the fact that they have been opposing each other for decades made it even worse.
Sonia took her own sweet time before coming on board and weaved together an unthinkable alliance. A Common Minimum Programme and no compromise on the party's secular credentials were devised to negate any adverse impact on its core minority support base.
She as the chairperson of the National Advisory Council had successfully weaved and run a coalition government for 10 years under the leadership of Manmohan Singh.
“There is no match to Sonia in coalition politics in India. She is a master at the art of bringing people with various ideologies and objectives to the same table. The Maha Vikas Agadi would not have taken shape if Rahul was the Congress president,” says Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist, political commentator and analyst.
She showed her leading-from-the-front skills by participating in all-party meetings called out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the coronavirus and China issues.
Rahul Gandhi used to give such things a miss.
She also showed great maturity by writing a letter praising the 21-day lockdown decision of the Modi government.
The period was, however, marred by the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia and the resultant fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. The Old Guard, led by Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, probably misled her into believing Scindia posed no threat.
Many in the Congress now want the process of election of a new president to be completed sooner rather than later. “The Congress must expedite the process of finding a full-term president to arrest the growing public perception that the party is adrift and rudderless,” senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Sunday.
Rasheed Kidwai also adds: “Sonia’s fragile health and the seen-it-all-in-the-last-two-decades situation also means that the hunger to be in power and do all it takes to defeat the BJP is missing. When you have to compete with the BJP, wherein Modi-Shah calls all the shots and decision making is swift, a consultative approach to try and build consensus makes decision-making tardy and slow impacting the party's prospects.”
According to reports, Rahul doesn’t want to be re-elected, unless he has a free hand. That is not acceptable to the Old Guard. The role of Priyanka in managing the Rajasthan situation and brokering peace between Gehlot and Pilot camp (as claimed by sources) could tilt the scales in her favour. The Old Guard is not too dismissive of her.
The situation in the Congress camp is fluid. Sonia wants to keep the control within the family. She is having a hard time convincing Rahul to patch up with senior leaders. Priyanka is too new to political gamesmanship, but seems to have potential.
Can a non-Gandhi, which used to happen quite frequently earlier, take up the top post in a party? Only time will tell.