The much-anticipated Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to find Rahul Gandhi’s successor took place on Saturday, 10th August. After 12 hours of deliberations, the party announced that Sonia Gandhi, will be the interim President till new President is elected in All India Congress Committee (AICC) session.
A.K. Antony opined in the CWC that pushing Sonia to take the job of Party Chief is not a good idea considering her health. Sonia also was also not eager to take the charge and agreed with Antony as per press reports. However, other members of the CWC persuaded her saying it was the best decision for the time being.
The announcement came after Rahul had categorically stated in his resignation letter that the new arrangement should not have any member of the Gandhi family. This announcement ended 2.5 months of drama. Without a captain at the helm, the party lost 2/3rd of its MLAs in Goa, alliance government in Karnataka and a few Rajya Sabha MPs since its disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha elections.
Critics and even a section of supporters are confused whether this step is for the future or takes them back in the past. The 72-year old Sonia handed over the baton to Rahul 20 months ago and is battling an illness. This may be her last stint as an MP. She is very close to retirement from politics.
It is ironical that the oldest political party of India which has crores of members and which is undoubtedly credited with getting Indian independence from British rule, could not even find one person to become a President and that too interim.
In the end it boiled down to a tussle between the old and new guard which had intensified after Rahul’s elevation to President’s post. It was also evident in party’s response to Article 370 abrogation and J&K bifurcation. While old guard opposed the move (Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal), the new brigade (Deepender Hooda, JyotiradityaScindia, Murli Deora) supported it. The chorus for a young leader at the helm was ignored because the old guard felt threatened and risked marginalization.
The move is aimed at restoring continuity in the organizational structure. Sonia has been party president for almost 20 years. An under rated President, she built the party after death of her husband Rajiv. For half of her tenure, the Congress party ruled in the centre from 2004-2014. She is credited with bringing on path breaking initiatives like RTE, NREGA etc. But the party also suffered a humiliating defeat in 2014 under Sonia’s leadership. It also lost many states elections post 2014.
The party cannot survive without a Gandhi helm at the top. Gandhi family is the glue which holds all the factions together. If anybody else was appointed, there could have been a rebellion, and mass exodus. Some young and powerful regional leaders were already dropping hints of leaving the party. CWC hopes Sonia’s appointment will help to keep the party together in these challenging times. Elections to 4 states are due in the next six months and party didn’t want to take any risk.
Critics of Rahul within the party have highlighted that he doesn’t share a good rapport with opposition leaders. His failure to stitch alliances and make work the one to one contest formula is cited as examples. Many regional satraps consider him as a junior and prefer negotiations with Sonia.
But will this move, enthuse the party workers? The party is facing an existential crisis. 65% of India’s population is under 35 years of age, and the need of the hour was youth leadership. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also advocated that new Congress President be one who connects with youth and fulfills their aspirations.
The move has protected the vested interests of the sycophants of the Gandhi family. Many in CWC haven’t fought elections for years. They are there because of their loyalty to Indira / Rajiv / Sonia. Any new leadership would have made sweeping changes in the CWC and AICC robbing them of their powers.
The fact that in effect it is a temporary arrangement doesn’t augur well for the party. There are many unanswered questions. Who after Sonia? When will AICC session for elections be held? Will Sonia continue as life time President? Will Rahul make a comeback? Or will it be Priyanka after Sonia? This confusion is not good specially when the party worker is demoralized.
Change is the only constant. This status quo shows the inability of the Congress to think out of the box in a challenging environment. It reeks of lethargy. When the party cannot find a President of the party outside of Gandhi family, how can it come up with ideas, programs and policies for a New India. How will it be able to decimate the BJP?
The party has not yet conducted an introspection for the loss. It needs to do a complete overhaul and restructuring of the organization structure. It remains to be seen whether Sonia undertakes this massive exercise or waits for the new President to do it. She is used to the coterie around her which could further delay this process. Meanwhile BJP social media machinery is working overtime to ensure this step of falling back upon dynasty reaches every nook and corner of the country.
First, the opposition to Article 370 abrogation and now the appointment of another Gandhi, at the helm, even for the time being has further weakened Congress party’s standing in the political landscape of India. The road ahead looks very tough for the grand old party.
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