The half-hearted bid for reconciliation undertaken by the Gandhis ahead of the formal anointment of a de jure President of the Indian National Congress next April is unlikely to rid the party of its inherent ills. A group of senior Congress leaders met at the house of Sonia Gandhi last Saturday.
Among the attendees were only a select number from the group of 23 senior leaders who had written to the interim party chief, drawing attention to the drift in the party affairs. The omission of notable critics who had taken the courageous initiative in letter-writing was deliberate. Clearly, the more forthright critics of the current dispensation were sought to be snubbed and isolated.
Usual time-servers dominated the five-hour proceedings held on the lawns of 10 Janpath. With former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath doing the groundwork for the meeting, the informal exchanges at the meeting were free of acrimony. Deference to the Gandhi trio being an unwritten prerequisite of any such meeting, for that reason, nothing of substance that could help rectify a wee bit the current malaise in the party materialised.
Swearing fealty to the Family being a non-negotiable pre-condition to stay in the party, all that the meeting achieved was to clear the way for the eventual anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the party chief in April. The charade of an organisational process now underway, being overseen by a hand-picked party committee, will peak in the only way it is predestined to do. That is, put the stamp of approval of an overwhelming majority of AICC members on the 'election' of Rahul as party chief. He has played that role de facto since he resigned in August last year following the party defeat in the parliamentary poll.
Since then, Priyanka Gandhi too has assumed a more high-profile role in the party affairs, though without showing any improvement in the image or the actual performance of the party. It is significant that despite the high-decibel noise by Rahul, the Congress fared so poorly in the latest Assembly poll in Bihar that its bigger ally, the RJD, was denied the opportunity to oust the NDA from power. The party also suffered a resounding rebuff in the recent byelections held in UP, MP, Karnataka, etc. For that matter, its performance in the local bodies’ elections in Rajasthan, Kerala and Goa too was dismal.
In the ultimate analysis, the worth of a leader is measured in his ability to win elections. If the Family is unable to get partymen elected as MPs, MLAs, etc., it is unlikely they will be able to hold together whatever is left of the Congress for very long. With the BJP aggressively poaching leaders from other parties, the Congress under the Gandhis may be staring at further diminution. The five-hour talkathon of pleasantries and tributes to the Gandhis’ leadership capabilities last Saturday was an unproductive effort, which only consolidated the status quo in the party.