Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi

If all goes well, the Congress party is set to have a plenary session by end-February next year to elect a new party president. It is time too. The party has been adrift since the resignation of Rahul Gandhi from the formal position of party chief following its spectacular loss in the May 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Since then, it has suffered further shocks.

The latest was its woeful performance in the recent Bihar assembly poll. It alone ensured the return to power of the JD(U)-BJP government, winning a mere 19 seats of the 70 allocated by the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan. The rebuff suffered by the party in Madhya Pradesh, where the ruling BJP consolidated its grip on power by winning an overwhelming number of the by-elections to the assembly was no less humiliating.

In the absence of a charismatic leader to rally around, party cadres feel demoralised. There is no denying the drift and despondency in the party ranks. The states where the party is in power is more due to the winning leadership of local leaders than any contribution from the central leadership. For instance, Captain Amarinder Singh does not require central help to win in Punjab. He is today the most popular leader in the state and could well return to power if an election were to be held today.

In Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel has strengthened his position in the state Congress, marginalising the rival contender for the CM’s post, T S Singh Deo, currently health minister in the state.

In UP, the party is virtually non-existent despite Priyanka Gandhi’s interventions through social media posts against the Yogi Adityanath government.

In Haryana, it is former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who rules the roast as the sole Congress leader, thumbing his nose at the central leadership since he commands grassroots support of the party cadres. Hooda raised the banner of revolt against Rahul Gandhi, forcing the latter to abandon his handpicked president of the state unit. Ashok Tomar quit the Congress when Rahul Gandhi gave in to Hooda's threat.

In Rajasthan, the Congress is a divided house, with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot marginalising the young and ambitious Sachin Pilot, who is biding his time before mounting another challenge against his bete noire.

As for Maharashtra, the Congress is a poor fourth, behind the BJP, Shiv Sena and the NCP. Without a viable regional leader, the future for the party in the state is bleak.

In Karnataka, the party has ceded further ground to the ruling BJP, losing two byelections in its longtime pocket-boroughs. In Kerala, the party is one of the constituents of an amorphous anti-Left front but has to necessarily share power with several smaller parties. In Telangana and Andhra, the party is reduced to being a signboard outfit, with little presence on the ground. In the national capital, the Congress is a poor third, behind the BJP and the AAP.

Given this highly emasculated state, if the party still tots up a 18 to 19 per cent vote- share nationally, it is because it still has pockets of influence throughout the country. There is need to rebuild on this weak but nonetheless significant organisational edifice.

Nearly two decades after he first took charge of the party, whether formally or informally, it is clear to everyone bar the purblind that the heir apparent lacks the grit and stamina to rough it out 24x7 for rebuilding the family firm. Shooting off accusatory tweets against the Prime Minister while taking a private break from campaigning amidst elections in Bihar does not illustrate a commitment to revive the party.

The sensible course for him would be to opt out of the leadership 'contest’ immediately and allow the proposed AICC session to choose a non-Gandhi as the party chief. In case the session does elect Rahul Gandhi as its de jure head, the whole electoral process would be seen as an eyewash. And it shall lead to a fresh exodus from the party, including quite a few from the group of 23 letter-writers.

If Rahul Gandhi really cares for the Congress, he would shun a leadership role, informal or formal. Or else the Congress footprint is bound to shrink further. It is a stark choice, but one which only he can make.

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