The Congress seems to be possessed by a death wish. Two and a half months after its president, Rahul Gandhi, made it clear that he wanted to quit, accepting responsibility for the severe mauling that the party received in the Lok Sabha elections under his stewardship, the party has brought back his mother Sonia Gandhi, whose resignation had paved the way for Rahul’s undeserved induction as president.
On the surface, it may seem as though the grand old party has no one capable of leading it except a dynast of the Nehru-Gandhi family, but this is something that ignores the guile and propensity for mischief of the old guard that can do anything to hold on to power.
The old guard, with the likes of Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad sensing marginalisation in a set-up with a non-Gandhi as leader, virtually pulled off a coup by announcing that Sonia Gandhi had agreed to hold fort until things smoothen out.
Ironically, it is the dynasts that have brought the party to such a sorry state and the monumental ineptness of Rahul Gandhi that led to its crushing defeat but logic seems to bypass the Congress party which is plagued by vested interests.
The Sonia-Rahul duo had, over the years, cultivated some henchmen who continue to sing their tune, seeing the rewards that they have reaped. They would be delighted that Sonia is back in command but what of the party and the connect with the people which is tenuous to say the least.
The likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot, who stood a chance to rejuvenate the ailing party were confronted by Sonia’s name at the last minute and were dumbstruck.
They were shown as lacking support within the party even as Sonia was sold the theory that the Congress would split if the Young Turks were allowed to have a decisive say.
Sonia had quit the presidentship because after the longest tenure of any Congress president she wanted to pass the mantle on to her son Rahul in good time with warning signs of her health manifesting themselves.
Now, with Rahul having shown little promise, she is reluctantly holding the reins and could well make a second bid to bring him back at a time when the Modi magic is on the wane.
Whether that time will ever come may be a big question but they are hoping against hope. Meanwhile, there is simmering factionalism within the party with the Young Turks realising that they have been short-changed yet again through a clever ruse.
Sonia’s assumption of presidentship will ward off the threat of a split for now but that it hangs overhead like a Damocles sword is a reality that cannot be ignored especially if the old versus new battle takes on new hues and intensifies.
It now appears that the names of Mukul Wasnik and Mallikarjun Kharge were floated by the old guard by design to spread the impression that if the Nehru-Gandhi family opts out, the result would be disastrous for the party. The old-style manipulators have apparently won the day.
As things stand, whatever little chance there was of a rejuvenated Congress to challenge the BJP in 2024 has been snuffed out with Prime Minister Narendra Modi riding high on public support and a TINA (There is No Alternative) factor becoming stronger and stronge.
The picture that Congress presents today is of a party that is groping and is unable to find an alternative to the Nehru-Gandhis. How much good that would do for the party is anybody’s guess.
One of the reasons for Rahul and Congress’ failure under him was his overkill on Modi’s so-called corruption of which Rahul was not able to produce a shred of evidence.
By repeatedly calling the Prime Minister a ‘chor’ Rahul plunged his already low credibility to the rock bottom. But nobody in the beleaguered party dared tell Rahul that he needed to correct his ways.
The result has been that in the aftermath of the poll, Rahul has talked of violence in Kashmir in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, thereby supporting the Pakistani bogey of unrest and disbelieving the official Indian version.
If that has reinforced the impression in public mind that Rahul is irresponsible and unreliable, he has himself to blame. At the same time, the impression is spreading that Rahul is parroting the Pakistani tune which can cause huge damage to Rahul’s future acceptability.
Some of the negative reporting on India in leading US dailies is also being attributed to the prompting of Congressmen close to Rahul Gandhi. It is not as though violence in the Valley is ruled out in the foreseeable future.
But with the heavy deployment of the army the disaffection is battled up. Kashmir’s best bet is that with the integration of the State with the rest of the country,
several benefits would accrue to the job-starved people of Kashmir and they would begin to reap the harvest of new opportunities. This would help change their heart and emotional integration would follow.
But in the short run there is no escape from cynicism and doubts over Indian intentions in the Valley which has seen decades of unrest.
Kamlendra Kanwaris a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.