By Sagarneel Sinha
Congress party, which still remains the main opposition party, did really a surprising thing by choosing Sonia Gandhi as the “new” president of the party — when names of senior leaders like Mukul Wasnik, Mallikarjun Kharge and young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia were discussed in the media for the post. Remember what Rahul Gandhi told while putting his papers down from the post of presidentship — that neither his mother Sonia nor his sister Priyanka Gandhi would succeed him. However, it happened completely opposite what Rahul said — with his mother back in the helm as the “new” interim president of the party. Not to forget the fact that Sonia, who was the party president from 1998-2017, has been the longest president in Congress party’s 133 years history.
Actually, it is the old guard of the Congress, who have been at loggerheads with Rahul’s style of functioning, responsible for bringing Sonia back to the post — for continuation of their own positions in the party. However, in doing so, the old guard, who are refusing to relinquish their authorities in the party to make way for the younger ones, are choosing to ignore the changed ground reality of the country. The writing on the wall is very clear — if Congress is to be revived it has to look for a new face — obviously a non-Gandhi — and a new structure within the party starting from the grassroot level.
Those Congress loyalists, particularly the old guard of the party, who are arguing that Sonia, who led the party to victory in 2004 and 2009 general elections would be reviving the party are factually wrong. But here what they are forgetting is that from 1999 to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Congress, which once used to get easily more than 40 per cent vote percentage, failed to even touch the 30 per cent mark under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi as the party president. When she assumed the post in 1998, Congress vote percentage stood around 26 per cent and at the time she relinquished the post in 2017, party’s overall vote share stood at around 19 per cent — with the party continuing to lose power of one state after the other to the BJP. From the facts, it is clear that the longest president of the party, didn’t actually strengthen it. Rather, it was her well articulated alliance politics that helped the Congress party to win both in 2004 and 2009 polls.
However, today those alliance mathematics won’t be working as the ground reality is entirely different — with the complete shift of India’s political nucleus from Congress to the BJP. Back in the late 90s and the early 20s, although BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power, the political system of the country was not one party dominated. During the last two decades, the country’s political system was mainly dominated by alliance politics where the Left and regional parties used to hold the key — which continued even in the ten years rule of the Congress led UPA. However, today’s actuality lucidly says that India has once again entered into one party dominated system — just like it used to be in the 50s, 60s, early 70s and 80s when the grand old party used to command on its own strength. And today it is the BJP, which after winning two consecutive elections on its own strength under the leadership of Narendra Modi is deciding the politics of the country. Back then, if those were the days of the Nehru-Gandhi family, today it is, undoubtedly, the Modi era.
So, it would be better for the Congress to accept this bitter truth that today’s politics of India is centred on Modi — with voters not willing to welcome the Congress ruled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. India has actually moved away from the era of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, once eulogised as the country’s first family. However, seems that the Congress, particularly the old guard of the party, are not willing to agree with the present ground reality by living in the past — resulting in bringing Sonia back to the president post of the party. However, it can’t also be denied that might be the Gandhis also don’t want to lose their control of the party — which they have been controlling since the country’s independence, except for some brief periods in between. Not to forget, it were both Sonia and Priyanka who had requested Rahul to reconsider his decision on quitting the post.
Whatever it is, the beleaguered Congress missed the golden chance to elect a non-Gandhi president. By clinging to the same dynasty, party leaders also displayed its weakness that without the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty it can’t survive. At the same time, it is also a fact that the ratings of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which the Congress considers as its glue to keep the faction ridden party together have dipped. So, for the time being, even if Sonia may be able to prevent the disintegration of the party — but it won’t be possible for her to do that with the state elections of Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana knocking at the doors, where prospects of the party look absolutely bleak. These electoral drubbings would only dent the party’s already damaged image eventually prompting the party to search again for a new president — and don’t be surprised if that search again ends at the doorsteps of the family. So, the harsh truth is that there seems to be no improvement of the Congress in the near future — because of its repeated refusals to read the writing on the wall — eventually leaving the political arena to its arch rival BJP to conquer. (IPA Service)