Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi

So, Congress remains stuck with the Gandhis. From Sonia to Rahul, and now back to Sonia again. Then, one may ask, what was that charade about Rahul’s resignation and a grand proclamation that nobody from the family would replace him. He said the new Congress chief should be elected by all bona-fide members of the party.

Whatever happened to that brave ambition to inject a measure of internal democracy in a party which has remained tied to the little finger of the Gandhis for decades. For 18 years Sonia was the party boss. Nobody had elected her to the post; one fine morning she just snatched it from Sitaram Kesari. In December 2017, she nominated her son and heir, Rahul, as the party boss. He failed to inject life into the moribund organization. And was roundly rejected in the Lok Sabha poll.

Now, he thought he would at least don the mantle of a principled politician, and resigned owing responsibility for the dismal performance of the party. That was on May 25. Since then the Congress has been in utter chaos and confusion. It spoke in multiple voices on major issues. Quite a few senior leaders left the Congress, detecting no sign of its revival. It pretended to search for a non-Gandhi to head the party while behind-the-scenes not only did Rahul continue to call the shots, but his mother and sister ensured that the party did not slip out of their grip. Reports that Mallikarjun Kharge and Mukul Wasnik were frontrunners for the coveted Congress President’s post were red-herrings.

There was no question of the family letting any outsider to lead the family firm. Priyanka Vadra was keen to assume formal control, but Rahul put his foot down. What if she did better than him? Not a very big ask. Besides, she would have Robert Vadra, the scam-tainted husband, to account for. Thus, in the last resort they wheeled out an apparently ill and not a very healthy 72-year-old, Sonia, to get back to the post she had held for 18 years without much distinction.

It was claimed that she was only an interim president. But no time-line was mentioned for locating a replacement, or for a fresh election, etc. So interim can mean that she can be president till such time that Rahul is again willing to take over the charge of the family firm.

Without doubt, the message from the drama of the last few weeks yet again spotlights that so-called veteran Congress leaders are all men of straw. They lack the courage and the moral conviction to stand up and reject dynastic rule in favour of internal democracy in the party. Their failure to elect a leader through consensus allows the Gandhis to claim that they alone are the glue that can keep the Grand Old Party from disintegrating into many rival factions.

Whether the daily exodus from the party would stop now that Sonia is back at the helm remains in doubt. It is so because a Sonia-led Congress has been rejected multiple times by the voters. She might abandon Rahul’s pro-Hindutva turn what with him claiming to be a Shiv Bhakt and visiting big and small temples during election campaigns, but it will be hard to relocate the Congress in the fast shrinking left-liberal space, especially when the ruling party under Modi is going from strength to strength. Sonia-led Congress cannot hope to regain its old glory given the fragmentation of the polity and the willingness of regional players to abandon middle-ground for a more shrill and vehement anti-Modi stance.

Congress will have to shed its arrogance and seek the cooperation of other regional parties to be able to offer a credible challenge to the ruling party. It can no longer live on old glory when it is all but a poor shell of its old self. It should try and groom young leaders, give them space to grow, instead of living in fear that they might outshine Rahul. And, above all, adopt a clear ideological stance, not becoming a B-team of BJP one day and as suddenly seeking to appease the Muslims by opposing the deletion of Article 370. Sonia’s return by itself cannot be enough to prevent the desertions from the party. She needs to convince those who still have a future, unlike the oldies who dominate the CWC, that they are in safe hands.

- S Sadanand

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