Late Saturday night the Congress Working Committee came to the decision to undo the earlier one of changing the President of the party and to invite Sonia Gandhi back to lead the Congress as an 'interim' President. The term of the 'interim President' is of course undefined and could thus prolong for ever. The oldest party of the nation is not in a position to survive without the Gandhi family. Sonia ji had led the party for 18 long years to emerge as the longest term surviving Party Chief. She handed over the baton in the hands of her son Rahul Gandhi under whose leadership the party faced the debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and thus refused to sit in the driver's seat any more. The party's highest body, its working committee (CWC), after a long search for a new leader arrived at the unanimous conclusion that apart from Sonia Gandhi there was no one in sight who could save the party ship from completely sinking.
Whatever happened in Congress over the last three months can be described as 'unfortunate but inevitable'. Had the CWC arrived at any name, the only certainty is that it would have disintegrated sooner than later. Thus, if Sonia ji has agreed to return to the chair of Party President despite her failing health, a ray of hope has surely emerged for the party. This is the state of affairs in the oldest political organ of the nation that at one time led the freedom struggle and also ruled for over two decades unabated. Though the party is based on a philosophy, it cannot survive without a Gandhi to lead it.
Gandhis for Survival
There are many time-proven incidents in the history of the party that shows that its followers and more importantly, its second and third rank leaders always need the support of the Gandhis to ensure its survival. In 1977 when the Congress suffered a big defeat on the backdrop of the Emergency, some party leaders did speak of 'common leadership' as they termed Indira Gandhi's regime as 'authoritarian rule'. However, soon all of them had to succumb to the pressure from other leaders and rank and file and bring Indira Gandhi back to lead the party. After the unfortunate demise of her son Rajiv Gandhi, the party big-wigs again thought of handing over the baton to a 'non-Gandhi'. This experiment also failed as the Congress lost its power. Finally Sonia ji was brought to the saddle.
She performed well and the Congress could rule the nation for two consecutive terms from 2004 to 2014. Unfortunately, she took ill and after the party's debacle in the hands of new rising star Narendra Modi, Sonia ji instated her son Rahul in the saddle. Despite desperate attempts and efforts he failed miserably to oust the BJP Government. On the contrary, the BJP under Modi came out stronger and Rahul had to face defeat in Amethi, the traditional Gandhi family bastion.
In fallout, party workers and mid-level leaders started jumping out of the sinking ship. Instead of making attempts to repair the situation, Rahul decided to bow out. This was a bolt from the blue to the party. Relentless efforts were made during the last three months to convince Rahul to retain his post but in vain. A 'reluctant' search committee was formed that started looking for a 'non-Gandhi face' to rule the dilapidated party. The 'search committee' searched for two months and at the end of the three marathon rounds, the CWC came out with a solution to re-appoint Sonia ji.
The CWC, which takes all decisions on behalf of the party, met on Saturday. It largely comprises of leaders who last fought an election 30 years ago. The CWC, according to sources, set up a group of leaders to identify the next leader or nominate a candidate as a compromise---anything to avoid the dreaded internal elections which is normally the ideal way for a robust political party to identify its leader. But since this is the Congress, a small group of senior leaders seem to have convinced Sonia Gandhi that an election could split the party.
The senior leaders led by party treasurer Ahmed Patel were punting for Mukul Wasnik, who last won an election from Ramtek in Maharashtra in 2009. Wasnik's positive trait being that he is a Scheduled Caste leader who would be not just be amenable but eager to play second fiddle to the Gandhi family, leaving its hold over the party intact. Wasnik is among the status quoists in the party who dread change since it might mean an end to their own political careers. The younger lot of leaders said to be in support of Rahul are impatient and want a real change that could revitalise the party, not more of the same which has seen the Congress reduced to a thorough has-been. However, there is a faction that believes that if they do the usual and appoint Wasnik, then the party would definitely split.
Jyotiraditya Breaks the Rank
Jyotiraditya Scindia, the young General Secretary with unfettered access to the Gandhis, breaking rank and publicly welcoming the government's decision to end Kashmir's special status, has the party in jitters. Some party leaders are convinced that those who welcomed the Modi government's move--Milind Deora, Deepender Hooda, Janardan Dwivedi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi--are in the process of filing job applications to the BJP.
Once the government cancelled the Amarnath Yatra, asked tourists to leave Kashmir Valley and moved additional troops there, some young leaders demanded an urgent meeting to decide on the Congress response. But senior leaders insisted that the party should decide its stand only after the government acted. This fumbling in response to the Modi government setting the agenda and the narrative has become the hallmark of the Congress. It makes the party look weak and highlights the lack of any principles or ideology or leadership.
Of course there is a small and weak but persistent lobby of young leadership that still believes if the party follows the counsel of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh by making a young grassroots leader its president, it could stave off some exits. Interestingly, the young gun option is not even being talked about. That's the sad story of the 'New Congress'. Without Gandhis it cannot survive and with Gandhis it fails to stand.
The writer is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).
- Bharat Kumar Raut