Congress's revival still distant
Is the Congress President Sonia Gandhi back in the driver's seat after putting her son Rahul Gandhi forward since 2013 by making him the party vice president? No one in the Congress today is talking of Rahul Gandhi's elevation as demoralisation has set in deeply. Dissent within the party against Rahul has been growing as the transition trauma continues. The fight between the old guard and the new guard (read Rahul's team) is also continuing.
Sonia had been ailing and out of action since last August. After she had come back from a medical checkup in New York last month, Sonia has been taking an interest in party matters as well as opposition unity. Internal unrest within the Congress also has prompted her return to the centre stage.
The Congress was feeling dejected after the five states Assembly poll results followed by the recent rout in the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections. It was clear that the opposition needed a strong leader to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, which is winning state after state in the past three years.
The situation in the party was becoming desperate with senior Congress leaders like S.M. Krishna deserting the party to join BJP. The gloom has spread to the next poll-bound - states where the BJP is looking to import Congress leaders and offer them positions, tickets, and money. This erosion was similar to what happened in 1997 during Sitaram Kesri's time. To her credit, Sonia Gandhi who came out of her mourning, not only stopped the erosion but also brought it to power not once but twice since 2004. In comparison, Rahul is not able to prove his leadership qualities as the party has been sliding further. A senior Congress leader commented recently in private that the party lacks leadership, communication, cadre and money. All these are required for the good health of the party. With no signs of improvement, the despondency among the senior leaders is palpable, more so after the UP debacle. Some former ministers like P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, and Salman Khursheed have practically gone back to their law practice.
Senior leaders like former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, Ambika Soni, Janardhan Dwivedi, and others are sulking. Then, there was talk of collective leadership, but Sonia Gandhi apparently is not inclined. The party at present lacks leadership more than anything, as Rahul has not come up to the expectations despite all the push from his mother and the party. It has lost connect with the people. Mediocre leaders have been given responsibilities in the party who have no understanding of the past or the future. Even on the ideological agenda, the BJP has hijacked the poor people through demonetisation and other welfare schemes. Its plank of secularism against the BJP's Hindutva has not succeeded, and it has to look for other issues to check the spread of the BJP.
Moreover, the Congress is also not able to lead the opposition. At the national level, Rahul Gandhi is not able to provide that leadership which is perhaps why Sonia Gandhi has come back in the driver's seat. For instance, she has taken the lead in mobilising the opposition parties. The first test will be the support for a common Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate. Will she succeed? Sonia has consulted leaders like Sharad Pawar (NCP), Nitish Kumar(JD(U)), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Sitaram Yechuri (CPI-M), CPI, and other parties to find a common candidate knowing well that it will only be a token fight as the BJP has the number to get its own Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. Many opposition leaders are senior to Rahul and prefer to deal with her.
But to do all these, the Congress first has to put its house in order and lift the sagging morale of the party. The first issue is leadership. Perhaps Sonia has realised that Rahul may need some more time as she is unwilling to admit that he is not capable. No doubt her stature remains high in the party, but the succession has not been taken smoothly so far. Secondly, despite the defeat in 2014 and the subsequent Assembly polls, the party has done nothing to build the organisation. It has not punished those who failed to deliver and continued to believe in status quo. Only this week the Congress chief has divested Digvijay Singh of the charge of Goa and Karnataka and also got rid of two general secretaries – Gurudas Kamat and Madhusudan Mistry.
Singh came under severe criticism for not enabling the Congress to form the government in Goa. But the announcements have come in piecemeal and more is likely to come. If the party insiders are to be believed, she plans to have one leader in charge of one state. By putting former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in charge of the poll going Gujarat and former minister Venugopal in charge of Karnataka, she has sent a signal that the new team will be a blend of the old guard and new. Venugopal, Sushmita Dev and a few others are part of Rahul Gandhi's cheerleaders who sit behind him in Parliament.
Whatever may be the Congress plans, it is clear that Sonia will lead the party for now sending cheers and confidence to the workers. But unless this is followed up by concrete measures like reorganisation, restructuring of the party and building up new leadership, the Congress has no future. Kalyani Shankar