The dismal performance of the Congress in Bihar, which contributed to the defeat of the Mahagathbandhan, would certainly hinder the acceptance of Rahul Gandhi as the undisputed leader of the grand old party. Therefore, it would be in his own interest that the 50-year-old grandson of Indira Gandhi should opt out of the presidential race, while assisting someone else to be elevated to this position.
Rahul had resigned as the party chief, following the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle, owning moral responsibility for the rout. Politically speaking, he should have first sought the resignation of all others holding pivotal party posts before putting in his own papers. This would have ensured that he could have eased out the dead wood, which over the past couple of decades, has done immense damage to the organisation.
The majority of them were a part of Sonia Gandhi’s coterie, and were primarily responsible for barricading Rahul from emerging in his own right as a full-fledged leader. Their resignations from party posts would have only strengthened the Congress, thereby allowing a new set of people to take over.
However, interim president Sonia Gandhi’s belief in status quo has always come to the rescue of such functionaries, many of whom have long been redundant. Rahul has also erred by backing lightweight leaders, whose political credibility is non-existent. This has also been the principal reason for the Bihar fiasco—with none of the office bearers entrusted with the job of overseeing matters—delivering at the grassroots level.
The outcome has wide-ranging ramifications, the most significant being that voices of dissent have already started being heard within the party. In addition, the bargaining power of the Congress for forging any future alliances has also been seriously diminished. Regional parties would now be flexing their muscles while allotting seats to the Congress. This could come to fore in Tamil Nadu, where the DMK, if it continues with the alliance, would certainly not grant an inch more than what they would want to concede.
Ever since Rahul relinquished his position, there have been focused attempts within the party for planning his return. Sonia Gandhi, has, but of course, been most keen for his comeback and even though she is the interim president, all decisions have virtually been taken by Rahul and his team. She has merely endorsed these calls, giving rise to the speculation that she would wish to be relieved of her responsibilities as early as possible.
Several leaders have publicly come out demanding an honest introspection into party affairs; they say that this has not happened since the 2014 elections. This is the sole prescription which could help in identifying the malaise, thus rooting out the ill-suited individuals and problem zones. In August, 23 senior leaders, had also questioned the manner in which the party was being run, resulting in an open factional war within the party.
Rahul must look for “out of the box” solutions, since the continuation of the Gandhi family at the helm is obstructing the resuscitation of the Congress. There are a large number of people who want to vote for the Congress, yet somehow are put off by its present leadership. In other words, Rahul should look for an experienced person to be the president, for guiding the party in the preparation of the 2024 Parliamentary polls.
In this context, there are several leaders who can readily be elected as party president, and consequently Rahul’s goodwill would multiply manifold within the organisation, if he facilitates any of them to attain the coveted position. Sycophants would attempt to convince him that there could be no party chief other than the Gandhis. The Sonia Congress, as the party should be referred to, has no resemblance with the Congress of the freedom struggle or that of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and even P.V. Narasimha Rao; the style of functioning is in total divergence.
However, there are leaders from the Indira, Sanjay and Rajiv era who can steer the party out of its current crisis. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath is an extremely competent and adept politician, who has been with the party for 50 years, having worked with all its top leaders. Former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is probably the only mass leader in the Congress, whose credentials are impeccable. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is equally seasoned and perceptive. The manner in which he extricated his government from collapsing, following a revolt from within, is ample proof of his political prowess. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is a very suitable claimant for the position but appears disinterested in national politics. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mukul Wasnik have immense organisational experience.
The Congress needs to reinvent itself for its revival or has to break up. There are indications of deep fissures within, that can possibly manifest themselves at any moment. The next party chief and members of the Working Committee should be elected through a transparent process. Other key bodies, like the Parliamentary Board, should be restored for larger consultations. There has to be a realisation within the party that the Congress is the only outfit that can counter the growing influence of the BJP nationally. It is high time that Rahul rose to the occasion and allowed some other leader to become the president. This gesture would ensure that he remains relevant, not only to the party, but to the country. Between us.