Sonia Gandhi's return as interim Congress chief demonstrates inability of party to survive without Gandhi glue

  • For India’s grand old party, it appears, the more things change, the more they remain the same, to use a cliché.

  • This whole ‘drama’ demonstrates the utter ineptitude of the Congress leadership.

  • It has become obvious that even from his self-imposed ‘exile’, Rahul was calling the shots in the party.

For India’s grand old party, it appears, the more things change, the more they remain the same, to use a cliché. On Saturday, the big hitters in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) came to the conclusion, after almost 11 weeks of appearing to be completely at sea, that the Congress could only be led by a Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi was thus somehow inveigled to begin a second innings as Congress president, despite having relinquished the post some two years ago, after a record-breaking run of 19 years. It took some persuasion, but in the end, the former president capitulated. This new coronation tells us a number of things.

First, the Congress will never survive without the Gandhi glue. Former party president Rahul Gandhi submitted his resignation to the CWC on 25 May. On 3 July, he finally set all doubts at rest in a tweeted letter of resignation. Between these two dates, the CWC failed to set in motion anything even remotely resembling a process of finding a new president. Instead, Congress leaders concentrated their energies on trying to persuade Rahul to rescind his resignation.

 Sonia Gandhis return as interim Congress chief demonstrates inability of party to survive without Gandhi glue

Sonia Gandhi at New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

It was only after 3 July that the Congress leadership began the process of finding an interim president. Even so, despite setting self-imposed deadlines, it took the CWC over five weeks to find an interim head. The denouement had to be the coronation of another Gandhi, despite the fact that Rahul had categorically stated, more than once, that the new leader would have to come from outside the family.

Second, this whole ‘drama’ demonstrates the utter ineptitude of the Congress leadership. It hardly speaks highly of those who are supposed to be in charge of running one of India’s two truly national parties that they should allow their party to remain headless for close to three months, especially while defections from the party led to the fall of a government in one state and the party’s virtual destruction in another.

Third, this episode demonstrates the absurd level of factional and personal rivalries within the party. One of the obvious reasons for the CWC’s failure to find a successor to Rahul is that no leader can possibly agree to another becoming chief and no faction can allow another to ‘dominate’. It would, one thinks, be arguable that several red herrings were planted to explain the reasons for the CWC’s inability to find a successor. The one that took centre-stage was the debate over the older generation and the younger one. The lack of consensus on whether the party’s fortunes should be entrusted to one of the rising leaders or to someone from the old guard is said to have made choosing a new leader more complicated. That is specious reasoning. Even if the CWC had settled on one of the ‘young leaders’, the choice of any one of them would have led to considerable blood-letting within the party. Better a Gandhi, in other words. The Congress leadership most unfortunately lacks completely a view of the party as being something above all of them.

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Fourth, it became obvious that even from his self-imposed ‘exile’, Rahul was calling the shots in the party. The incident that showed this was curious. On Friday, the day before the CWC was to meet to finally find an interim president, Rahul ‘directed’ the CWC to widen the scope of the discussions by consulting state units, legislature parties, front organisations and MPs while choosing the interim president. This was, indeed, done on Saturday. The idea was good: a decision as important as this ought not to have been taken by a coterie within the CWC. The widening of the ambit of the discussions proved, as we have seen, to be somewhat superfluous, given the outcome.

But Rahul’s intervention raises a question. In his 3 July letter, Rahul had made three things clear: he would not rethink his position; no Gandhi would take over; and, he would not be involved in any way in the process of selecting the interim president. Yet, after having distanced himself from organisational matters for 11 weeks, why did he choose to issue a ukase at the last moment? And what does this signify? It would appear that the major part of the reason for Rahul’s abstention from party affairs is an attempt to evade responsibility, without relinquishing the power he undeniably still wields. The latter is obvious from the fact that his ‘command’ was promptly heeded.

In only one respect did the CWC, backed by the party, disregard Rahul: it forced the issue and convinced the most likely Gandhi to take over the reins of the party. But Rahul can hardly jib at this stage, since his mother did agree to take charge, however unwillingly. It can, moreover, be argued that in the Gandhi hierarchy, Sonia has always been at the top.

In any case, Sonia will have to remain president for some time now for a number of reasons. The party is in complete disarray and will have to be brought back on the rails. This must involve somehow injecting huge amounts of adrenaline into disheartened party cadres, as well as leaders. The interim president will have to find a way of stemming the exodus of workers and leaders out of the party. A thorough overhaul of the organisation is probably on the cards.

Sonia must also prepare the party to meet the challenges of a raft of Assembly elections over this year and the next. All this means that Sonia will, in all likelihood, remain president for quite a couple of years. Whether the Congress will genuinely be able to elect a president after that, is the question.

Updated Date: Aug 12, 2019 08:57:15 IST