By Kalyani Shankar
Sonia Gandhi is back again as the Congress President after two years. She had taken a backseat during this period leaving the field entirely to her son after handing over the baton to Rahul Gandhi in 2017. She will be at the helm of affairs until the party holds the next organisational elections. Sonia had stepped in in1998 when the party was in bad shape and was able to check the erosion. She even brought the party to power twice (2004-2014) Now that she is reluctantly back as Congress chief, what would be her challenges in the coming days and months?
The first challenge for Sonia, who had remained the longest Congress president for 19 years, will be to restore the morale of the ordinary Congress worker. She commands respect, trust and loyalty of party leaders workers across the generational divide.
After the humiliating defeat in the 2019 polls when the party got just 52 seats and the leadership crisis in the past 75 days after the resignation of Rahul Gandhi, the morale of the worker had gone down further. After the Congress Working Committee went through the motions of consultation process and ultimately brought back Sonia Gandhi, it is not clear whether Sonia would be able to restore the party to its health. She needs to give a pep talk to the workers who might have confidence in her and boost their morale.
Secondly and more importantly, Assembly elections are due in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana in the next two months and the Congress is still not ready to face it while the BJP is all set to win the three states. Sonia has to put the right people for the right jobs and strengthen the party organizationally. There is factionalism and also erosion of workers and leaders. She has to appoint strong General Secretaries to oversee the election preparedness. Even if the Congress could win one state, it would go a long way in boosting the morale of the party.
Thirdly, she has to hold the flock, as now that the old guard have had their way, she must make sure that the disappointed younger lot do not look for greener pastures. Already there are rumours that some of the younger leaders are talking to the BJP. She should be able to persuade them to remain in Congress by giving them some importance.
Fourthly, it is important to check the erosion. Sonia was able to do so in 1998, when she took over from SitaramKesri. She did so at a time when the party was in the opposition and many senior leaders were leaving the party. Now also some M.Ps like Sanjay Singh and Bhubaneswar Kalita have joint the BJP. More are likely to go. In most states including Maharashtra, Goa, Telangana, several Congressmen are leaving the sinking ship. The question is whether she will be able to stop them.
Fifthly, she should restore the position of the Congress Party, as a challenger to the BJP For this there is need for repackaging the Congress party. She was successful in doing so earlier by holding conclaves in Panchmarhi and Shimla with brainstorming sessions involving the party leaders and such a one is needed now, especially after the humiliating defeat in Lok Sabha polls. The party is yet to introspect and come up with corrections.
Sixthly, she must define the role for her children. Otherwise there would be three power centres. Rahul has said that he would continue to work for the party. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is already a General Secretary but she is not just another general secretary because of her access to her mother.
Seventhly, she must rework her coalition strategy and where the Congress is not strong, must look at alliances with the smaller and regional parties. The party must realise that this would be the only way it can improve its chances.
And last but not the least, it is imperative to concentrate on the party’s reorganisation and re connect with the voters. The Congress got zero in 17 states in the 2019 polls. In the past five years, BJP has considerably expanded its base and won states it had never won in the past and emerged, as the principal pole of national politics replacing the Congress. The Congress has to come up with a new plan to revive the party in the northern and eastern states. There are five years to do this until the 2014 polls although the intervening Assembly polls are also important. The party should work with a missionary zeal to achieve this.
For all these she needs a good team. While the coterie might expect to grab all the power, she must have a mix of old and young Congress leaders in her core team. All these have to be taken up with utmost urgency, as there is not enough time before the ensuing Assembly polls. (IPA Service)