Restoring former glory
With the mantle back in her hands, Sonia Gandhi must overhaul the party structure and mechanics to pitch a stronger Congress for the upcoming state elections
Sonia Gandhi is heading the Congress party in an interim period until a full-fledged president is appointed. But decisions and actions cannot be interim in nature and unless she uses all her experience, sagacity and political credibility, Congress will not be pulled out of the quicksand it is in at the moment. She cannot afford to be stagnant and has a burdensome job of revamping the organisational structure to rejuvenate her party as it goes in the electoral battlefield of the assembly elections in coming months.
The earlier she starts, the better. But with the growing disillusionment within Congress, the scope of any radical restructuring seems impossible. While preparing for coming rounds of state elections, Sonia would, at most, be able to put a team of leaders to oversee various proceedings in the election-going states. The tradition of 'committee system' is so deep-rooted in her party that she also has to follow this rule book exercise.
In the absence of Sonia, the old guard versus young Turk brawling would have taken a much more severe turn. The gap between the two has been widening with every passing day. That is put on hold temporarily. But a new trend of expressing dissent by leaders in the open is increasing at a worrisome pace and even Sonia's presence at the helm of affairs is proving insufficient to contain it. There are leaders who have openly voiced their personal opinions against the official line and said that demonising Narendra Modi is harming Congress at the ground level. On the issue of the withdrawal of special status to Jammu & Kashmir, a number of leaders did not toe the conclusive line of the party.
Airing of views by leaders such as Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor, Abhishek Singhvi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Harish Rawat, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Milind Deora on various issues recently is a very rare prodigy. All of them knew about the basic sentiments of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi on the issues, still, they chose to go in a contrary direction that clashes with the formal line of their party. It won't be right to find any parallel of recent developments with what happened in 1999 when Sharad Pawar, P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar expressed their opinion so openly or in the late 1960s when Syndicate took on Indira Gandhi, but the open expression of current dissension is certainly abnormal. At any other point of time, Congress high-command would have dragged the leaders up to the doors of the disciplinary action committee but this is not the time for taking suo moto cognisance of these activities.
Sonia Gandhi is bound to fight the battle with her tied hands this time. But she must not ignore the importance of quickly getting her acts together. She has to remove the feeling of interim-ness from her mind and take every required step to save Congress from being irrelevant. Congress workers were extremely disheartened for two-and-a-half months after Rahul Gandhi left them in a lurch. A small ray of hope has reappeared after Sonia's taking over, but if there won't be any glimpse of structural change in coming weeks, assembly poll pitch will face serious dent.
Congress practically has no individual chances of any major presence in the polls in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, which are slated to be held later this year. Similar is the situation in Delhi which will go to polls early next year. In all probabilities, there will be an election in Bihar also with the beginning of 2020. Congress alone cannot make any considerable mark in any of these states and the indications of opposition alliance are bleak, at least at the moment. Bhartiya Janata Party shall make every effort to make assembly elections multi-cornered in every state.
What is in store for the Congress can be assessed by the fact that a number of its leaders in the election-going states are sitting on the verge of either shifting directly to BJP or creating their own political outfit if possible. Congress is a divided house in every state and whenever there will be assembly poll in any state, the party leadership will have to make really hard efforts to keep its folks together. Sonia's quality of being believable is an incalculable asset for the Congress today when it is passing through a grave crisis. Her active involvement in forming alliances with other parties as well as maintaining cordiality among the players in her own state units has tremendous potential of improving Congress' chances.
Overhauling the party in the states that are going for elections is Sonia's priority. Renewing old ties with like-minded parties is her priority. But at the same time, she has to focus on the central arrangements within Congress. More than Lok Sabha drubbing, it was the lack of central leadership that provoked state-level leaders to find options. Sonia has to walk many more extra miles to eliminate the perception that Congress is a sinking ship. For many Congressmen, it is a waiting period during which they prefer to observe the steps Sonia takes. This period will come to an end with the time for notification of assembly elections.
My interactions with Congress leaders of different shades clearly demonstrate that they have no hopes of any sizable space for their party in forthcoming state elections. But it is never sensible to ignore reality simply because there is nothing you can do about it. Leadership, despite with tied hands, means forming a team and working toward common objectives that are tied to time, metrics, and resources. Congress must learn how not to tie dead with alive persons — the principal reason for its downfall in past years. Allowing the drain of energy, experience, talent and brain by not utilising it properly has been the cause of all its problems.
Congress knowingly or unknowingly made way for ideologically undeveloped and childish elements to occupy positions of control. They worked against the primary faith of the Congress party. Today's deeply ingrained pessimism within the party is an outcome of this. The hands of Sonia Gandhi are tied today because of the greed of the intermediaries that the system has generated. If your hands are tied towards anything that is in need of a strong helping hand, nothing could be more inauspicious. Nothing would be more regrettable in the times to come if Sonia doesn't make herself able to untie her hands and push her party into a handsfree mode at the earliest. Good intentions can move mountains and I am sure, Sonia Gandhi has no dearth of very good intentions for making Congress great again.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. The views expressed are strictly personal)