Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s frontal-attack on Friday on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his government, would have proved to be more effective had she been able to semi-resuscitate her party that remains directionless. The fact of the matter is that some of the opposition leaders, who participated in the video-conferencing, presided over by her, to review the Covid-19 situation and its handling, did so more to express their opposition to the present regime, rather than demonstrate solidarity with the Congress, and thus by implication reposing no confidence in her ability to once again spearhead the collective challenge.
This was in sharp contrast to what had transpired in July 2003, following the Shimla Conclave of the Congress, where a call was given by her to leaders of political parties to join hands with the Grand Old Party to work out a joint strategy to ease out the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Centre. The outcome being that all leading Opposition parties extended out-and-out support to the Congress, under the overall stewardship of Sonia Gandhi, and not only exposed the “Shining India” and “Feel Good Factor” dispensation of Vajpayee, but ensured that in the 2004 Parliamentary polls, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 145 seats as opposed to 138 by the BJP.
At that stage, the Congress was a powerfully-built, well-fortified party, with Sonia having the vantage-point advantage of being counselled by veteran and seasoned leaders such as Arjun Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and Pranab Mukherjee. In the present scenario, there is no person who possesses both the stature or the tenacity of these leaders to out-manoeuvre the BJP leadership, which is well entrenched, despite its innumerable pitfalls and indiscretions in handling either grave economic havoc or the current Covid-19 crisis.
The difference between 2003-2004 and as of now, is that the Congress appeared to be the only opposition party that could take on the BJP and it had both leaders and workers to counter the saffron brigade’s spiralling aspirations. Soon after in 2004, when Sonia Gandhi opted out of the Prime Minister’s race, Lalu Prasad Yadav, then an influential regional satrap, communicated to the Congress leadership, that since she had chosen to bow out of the contest, the UPA should combinedly decide on who should be the Prime Minister. At this juncture, Fotedar made it amply clear to him that the leadership position of the UPA would continue with the Congress, and it was the prerogative of its top brass to name who would head the government in place of Sonia. Lalu took it in his stride and settled for fait accompli.
In the ongoing shifting context, Sonia’s own leadership continually is on a shaky ground with no one knowing who the baton would be passed on to; there is a tussle between her son, Rahul whom she wishes to be reinstated, and daughter, Priyanka who repeatedly makes publicised bids in order to retain her relevancy.
Recently, when Priyanka attacked the UP government for not allowing the Congress to ply buses to ferry migrant workers, brickbats were flung her way from several quarters, including a party MLA from the Rae Bareli area. Curiously, Rahul did not make any attempt to defend her.
The Congress, is so rudderless that on 19 May, the party’s Twitter handle showcased a photograph of former President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, recalling his numerous achievements as the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Reddy was, in his own right, an accomplished politician but the twist in the tale was, the absence of any sense of history amongst Congress leaders.
In 1969, the Congress split into two, basically after the Syndicate led by S. Nijalangappa, K. Kamaraj, Morarji Desai, S.K. Patil and Atultya Ghosh amongst others, finalised Reddy’s name for the country’s Presidentship, following the untimely demise on 3 May of Dr Zakir Hussain. The knives were all out for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who held her ground, announcing the candidacy of Vice President V.V. Giri, prodding Congressmen to vote from “their conscience” for her nominee. The rest is history. The Congress was a divided house, yet Giri, by a small margin, romped home to victory, thus enabling Indira Gandhi to free herself from the clutches of the powerful Syndicate, therefore launching herself as a mass leader with a colossal following. The 1971 Lok Sabha polls and the 1972 Assembly elections ensured that she became the definitive leader of her countrymen. Reddy was elected President much later in 1977—after Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed passed away on 11 February—with the Janata Party that subsequently came to power backing him.
The short point: That the contemporary Congress is unschooled regarding its own former leaders and, therefore, makes uninformed notifications cum comments on social media. In general, so far, as the Opposition gathering is concerned, the current lot of Opposition higher-ups, have extremely strong reservations regarding the Congress in its present form, to head the conglomerate to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee are more acceptable, and the over-sweeping belief is that if the Congress has to assume a crucial and pivotal role, it shall have to be led by a non-Gandhi.
In this context, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath can be the validly appropriate choice, with the party presidentship going to either Bhupinder Singh Hooda or Ashok Gehlot. The Gandhis can, at best, be befitting facilitators to pave the way for this essentially vital change. Between us.