Rahul must rebuild Congress
But ill or well, the Congress will still cling to Sonia Gandhi
On Saturday, Congress had a regime change with 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of the party amidst speculations that his mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi might retire. Sonia also has been expressing publicly that her role now was to retire. But will Sonia Gandhi really retire even though she has yielded her place as the Congress chief to her son?
She may not, if she is going to continue as the Congress Parliamentary Party chair and also the UPA chairperson, as her party asserts. Generally, when politicians quit public life, they quit all positions but Sonia is not destined to be one of them. She might have only given up the party presidency.
Why so much confusion about her retirement? The Gandhi family (read as Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka) is a very close-knit unit and have made all decisions pertaining to the family members taking all along. It was the family, which persuaded Sonia not to become the Prime Minister in 2004. It was the family, which decided when Rahul should be elevated. It was the family, which decided when Sonia should take a back seat when her health deteriorated two years ago. It was the family, which thought it was time for Rahul to take over now. Therefore, the family must have created a new role for Sonia Gandhi even after her so-called retirement.
So why will Sonia find it hard to retire? Ill or well, the Congress will cling to Sonia as she had brought the party to power not once but twice (2004 and 2009). It was not a small achievement. Rahul Gandhi has not proven to be a winning vote catcher though he has been drawing crowds in the recent Gujarat polls. The party would like to cling to tried and tested leaders like Sonia rather than put all its eggs in the basket of Rahul Gandhi, though it is not averse to giving him a chance.
Secondly, the old guard in the party is quite apprehensive of Rahul's leadership. In fact, within the party, it was often said that it was the old guard, which was blocking Rahul's elevation for some years although Sonia would have liked to put her son as the party chief much earlier. Rahul Gandhi's supporters had been complaining that he was not having a free hand because of the old guard. Senior leaders feel quite comfortable with Sonia Gandhi and would rather work with her than her son. Also, they were apprehensive of their future in the Rahul regime, as Rahul has been favouring younger men in his team.
Thirdly, the party needs a senior leader like Sonia to head the Congress Parliamentary Party. In the upper house the Congress-led Opposition is quite belligerent and can block government bills. BJP has to wait for some more time to get a majority in Rajya Sabha although it has got one more seat than the Congress and has become the single largest party in the upper house. So far the old guard like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and others, who have been running the show, are all close to Sonia Gandhi. If Rahul brings a young team who do not know much of the parliamentary practices, it may not serve the purpose. As for dealing with the other leaders of the Opposition, who better than Sonia to lead the Opposition? Despite taking a backseat in the past few months, it was her leadership, which brought 18 political parties together to choose the opposition candidates in the recent presidential and vice-presidential elections.
Fourthly and more importantly, the Congress is looking to do better in the 2018 Assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The party knows that it is the arithmetic which works in elections. Sonia has proved that she can keep the UPA together although it is shrinking a little. The UPA needs more allies nearer the Lok Sabha polls. Senior opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad Yadav and others may not like to work under Rahul Gandhi's leadership while they had no hesitation in working with Sonia. The CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury has said in a recent TV interview that Sonia was the glue that kept the UPA intact and without her the UPA will break. Therefore, the Congress would like Sonia to continue at least until the 2019 polls.
So, it is not surprising that Sonia may continue to be the CPP leader and the UPA chairperson though she shed the post of the party president on Saturday. Rahul as the new party chief will concentrate on the organisational affairs. The party is sinking slowly and it needs full-time attention of the Gandhis. Once Rahul has established himself as a vote-catcher, things will improve for him. Rahul has already emerged as a credible Opposition leader in the recent Gujarat poll campaign. All that he has to do is to build the organisation and prepare foot soldiers before the 2019 polls. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)