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18 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Coming a full circle

Even as Sonia Gandhi went down memory lane, the Congress party grappled with the present: desperately tried to resolve the leadership crisis
Kumkum Chadha
Coming a full circle

It was a meeting without the Gandhis but it was one that zeroed in on the leadership of the senior-most member of the trio: Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka.  When the Congress Party’s working committee was grappling with the key issue of its leadership, all three were attending Sheila Dikshit’s prayer meeting where Sonia Gandhi also spoke and remembered the veteran leader who she said was a friend and a valued colleague. Her association with Sheila Dikshit, Sonia Gandhi said, started before her association with politics did.

 Even as Sonia Gandhi went down memory lane, the Congress party grappled with the present: desperately tried to resolve the leadership crisis that had in the recent weeks left the Party  leaderless following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as party president some two months ago. The grand old party had plunged into a crisis on two fronts: electorally when it was trounced and worse still the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi lost from the family stronghold Amethi; politically when Rahul Gandhi quit the post as party chief. As if that was not enough his parting statement was that a non-Gandhi should head the beleaguered party. That ruled out the obvious choices: his sister Priyanka who had recently assumed an active role in the party as an office bearer and Sonia Gandhi who had since stepped down to make way for her son to hold the reins of the party as well as steer it.

As Congress President, Rahul Gandhi did both and irrespective of the dismal results in the last election, he did throw a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even while the Congress failed to match the prowess of the BJP-RSS combine, one cannot undermine Rahul Gandhi’s fighting spirit. It was thanks to him that the Congress was seen as a rival to the BJP: something that had eluded it after the 2014 drubbing. Rahul Gandhi brought it centerstage and his statements beginning with calling the Modi government “suit boot ki Sarkar” a party of the rich and elite to demanding a probe into the controversial Rafael aircraft deal he managed to engage the media. Hence from a party that was virtually written off and from his image of being a pappu, one who knows little, Rahul Gandhi reinvented both himself and the Congress. One cannot ignore the fact that he was kind of a headache for Modi who perforce had to mention him in his speeches even if it was to deride him. After his famous hug to Modi in Parliament last year after his speech on the no confidence motion against the BJP government, Rahul  grabbed headlines. It was not a one-off. Rahul Gandhi’s  statements have drawn media attention and yesterday’s pappuemerged as a politically adept leader who spared no opportunity to hit out at Modi. It is a matter of record that day after day he shared space with Modi on the front pages of national dailies. Had it not been for Rahul’s combative politics, the possibility of Congress improving its double-digit tally to triple would have been remote.  

So, to write off Rahul as a failure would be grossly unfair. If anything, he rejuvenated the party, helped it stand on its feet after the electoral debacle and led from the front and fought and fought hard. It was Destiny that did not favour him.

That apart, he was pitched against heavy odds including a rival like Modi who is an old hand at both politics and governance. Also, much ahead in years. Therefore, not only is the comparison unfair but also the expectation of Rahul trouncing him rather unrealistic. Yet Rahul did not throw in the towel till the results in the recent elections showed up. Those broke his heart: like any student’s would who had worked very hard for an exam, expecting to do well if not top but failed to make the cut.  But more than that it was the disappointment with the Congress party and the way they put personal gain above the party that disillusioned Rahul: a point he made post defeat targeting some leaders who had insisted that their kids be given tickets to contest. It was less the BJP and more the Congress which made Rahul not only give up but also assert that no one from the Gandhi family should succeed him as party President.

True to their  grain, Congressmen thought that a little bit of persuasion and deafening slogans of support would help change his mind but Rahul seemed to be made of sterner stuff and did not relent. Seventy-seven  days passed with no solution in sight till names starting doing the rounds but none to match the magic of a Gandhi. This more than the resignation was the real crisis staring the Congress party in its face.

Even as Sonia Gandhi remembered Sheila Dikshit that evening along with her children, the Congress Working Committee deliberated and examined various options. There was the old guard and there were younger leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge or Mukul Wasnik respectively who were being considered for the top job. Hearts beat and with bated breath everyone awaited the long overdue announcement of who next? And finally, when it did happen,  it threw up a desirable but most unexpected name: Sonia Gandhi, the longest serving President, who had stepped down two years ago to make way for her son. Rahul, it may be recalled, took over as Congress President in December 2017.

“The CWC unanimously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi should take over as interim president pending the election of regular president by the All India Congress Committee (AICC)," the media, and through it India and the world,  was told after the marathon meeting.  

Volumes were and will continue to be written on how correct or appropriate the decision is; allegations made on the “drama” enacting  from a Gandhi to a Gandhiand fingers pointed at the inner coterie for stage managing the entire show to keep power within the fold. It may be difficult to ward off these charges or deny the existence of a well-crafted plot but going beyond, one must get a grip on reality and that being that at this juncture Sonia Gandhi is the Congress’ best bet. The party is perhaps facing its worst ever crisis and there are large scale desertions, a sagging morale and problems that do not seem to cease. At this juncture her stepping in would arrest the decline and steer the party as also save it from disintegration.

 History it seems is being repeated given that this is the second time that Sonia Gandhi is stepping in to save the Congress Party: the first time it was falling apart was after her husband Rajiv’s death when after seven long years she agreed to be at the helm and steer the Party which she did for 15 long years: the second time is now when once again it is falling apart and there seems no one but Sonia Gandhi who can hold it together. She is, as Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury had said once said in the context of the Opposition, the “glue” that binds people. Nothing can be more true for the Congress which clearly needs a revival and one at a break neck speed. Sonia Gandhi’s acceptance to lead the Party yet again has surely resolved the leadership issue for the moment, even though the twists and turn that await it remain to be seen. As of now it has come full circle: from mother to son and back to the mother to possibly rewrite the blurred destiny of the grand old party.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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