In his resignation letter from the post of Congress president, Rahul Gandhi had called for a transformation of the party. Later, he said that the Congress must pick a president from outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to move forward from the general election defeat. However, on Saturday, nearly two-and-half months after Rahul quit as party chief, the Congress Working Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, named Sonia Gandhi the interim president. Sonia, who helmed the party for a record 19 years till 2017, will hold the post until organisational elections are held and a new president is appointed.
Predictably, senior Congress leaders have hailed the choice. In fact, however, the party’s move to fall back on a former president from the dynasty is a symptom of the crisis plaguing the Congress. Clearly, India’s Grand Old Party seems to be lacking in young talent. Or, its privileged and entitled establishment that has so abysmally failed to challenge the BJP juggernaut rolling over the country’s political landscape, is unwilling to step aside for a new leadership. Either way, given the absence of any structures and processes or ideological framework, it seems that the only glue that can hold the party together is still the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Congress has also exposed itself as a timid party unwilling to face up to the new reality. India, today, has a predominantly young electorate. Under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP appeals to its ambitions and aspirations. The BJP has also been changing the ideological compass of the Indian state. The Congress, however, appears to be in a state of confusion as the Modi-Shah regime resets the nation’s policies and priorities. The party’s failure to produce a coherent response to the Centre’s decision to amend Article 370 and change the status of Jammu and Kashmir is only the latest illustration of its listless character today.
The absence of leadership and lack of direction in the Congress has prodded many leaders to leave the party. Sonia’s return as president may stem the bleeding. But the party will need to do much more if it wants to regain credibility among voters. A first step could be to end the nomination culture in the party and hold elections for leadership positions. That itself could rejuvenate the party and help it attract young, energetic people. The Congress also needs to restate its principles so that citizens know where it stands on crucial national issues. It needs fresh faces, bold strategies and a new political language to come back into the reckoning. It could take a leaf from the BJP, which recast its leadership after losing the 2009 general election and acquired a new edge. Even though the return of Sonia at the helm draws attention to the impoverishment of Congress options, she could step up to this moment and ensure a genuine transition by taking the tough decisions.
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