Sonia returns as interim Congress chief: In failing to quit its Gandhi fixation, flailing party reverts to status quo

  • By bringing back Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has failed to address the dual problems of finding a new leader and reviving the party

  • This decision will also give a handle to its prime opponent – the BJP – to again raise the issue of dynastic politics in Congress

  • Sonia, who stepped aside due to health reasons, and didn't campaign for the party during the recent elections, has been forced to make a comeback

After a wait of 77 days, the Congress finally has a new president at the helm. But there is nothing new about the new interim president. The baton remained firmly within the Congress First Family as Sonia Gandhi returned to the post of grand old party chief. But does this solve the problem the Congress had been facing after Rahul Gandhi's resignation after the electoral debacle?

The Congress Working Committee in its resolution stated that Sonia will lead the party until a full-time president is picked. Thus came to a halt all the expectations of political watchers and the Congress faithful that a new face would impart a fresh lease of life to the moribund party.

Rahul tendered his resignation in a closed-door meeting of the CWC on 25 May. This was a unique opportunity for the party to take drastic steps and bring in new leadership, especially when the Gandhi scion left space vacant for party members outside his family. The decision to bring back Sonia as interim president was taken after Rahul declined to withdraw his resignation despite several requests by party leaders, office bearers and members of Congress Legislative Party (CLP), All India Congress Committee (AICC) and Pradesh Congress Committees.

Rahul had been vocal about preferring someone from outside the Gandhi family as the next party president. Senior leaders such as Amarinder Singh, Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora failed to present a non-Gandhi option.

Which shows that any other candidate barring Sonia and Rahul lacks national recall, brand value and credibility.

Sonia, who stepped aside due to health reasons, and didn't campaign for the party during the recent elections, has been forced to make a comeback. She had made it clear that she won’t hold the post of party chief.

 Sonia returns as interim Congress chief: In failing to quit its Gandhi fixation, flailing party reverts to status quo

File image of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

“From the Congress’ point of view, the decision to bring in Sonia as interim president makes sense at the moment on three counts,” said political commentator Parivesh Mishra. “First, she allows Rahul to stick to his publicly announced decision to own responsibility for the party’s performance and quit. Second, it provides the most important glue to keep the party workers united. And third, it assures a smooth transition back to Rahul, if and when, that happens.”

Sonia was first invited by Congress leaders to take the reigns following the assassination of her husband, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, but she declined. She agreed to join politics in 1997 after much pleading from the party. She was nominated as Congress president in the party’s plenary session in 1998. She held that post for 19 years: the longest term served ever by any party president.

Under her leadership, the Congress formed a coalition government (United Progressive Alliance) in 2004 with Manmohan Singh as prime minister. The alliance was  reelected in 2009 after winning a decisive majority with the Congress itself getting 206 Lok Sabha seats. Sonia has been hailed as one of the most powerful women politicians despite never being prime minister.

“At this juncture, this is the best decision that could have been taken by the CWC,” remarked Congress leader Bhujit Doshi. The ex-spokesperson of Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress added that "Soniaji has proved herself  in the most difficult times and will definitely boost the fortunes of the Congress."

However, by bringing back Sonia, the Congress has failed to address the dual problems of finding a new leader and reviving the party. Post the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress was reduced to 52 seats. Sonia stepped down only in 2017, so she must bear some of the responsibility for the Congress' decline from.  After facing a massive electoral debacle in the 2014 election, in which Congress won only 44 seats, the writing on the wall was clear: the party needed a revamp.

Rahul, both as Congress vice president and then as president, failed to implement a couple of his proposals due to internal resistance. His frustration was apparent.

While the Congress declined, the BJP rose sharply across the country, both in terms of numbers and members.

However, despite welcoming this move, many within the Congress as well as political pundits, have expressed an apprehension that the party will once again be dominated by the old guard, who are thought to be closer to Sonia than Rahul. Though the leadership problem the party had been grappling with has been resolved temporarily, a much-needed drastic overhaul might yet again take a backseat.

And this decision will also give a handle to its prime opponent – the BJP – to again raise the issue of dynastic politics in Congress. Once Sonia quits, the problem of selecting a new president will rear up again, unless she handpicks someone. Or the baton will be passed to yet another member of the Gandhi family, as some political pundits have been speculating.

“Sonia Gandhi is another name for status quo and the party is badly in need of a major shakeup. Her presence at the top will prevent anything drastic, dramatic and experimental from happening. And that is in no way going to do any good to the party,” Mishra concluded.

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Updated Date: Aug 11, 2019 19:14:35 IST