The apparent truce between the warring Congress factions just four days ahead of a scheduled floor test in Jaipur may have saved the party’s government in Rajasthan, at least for now. However, the month-long drama that saw a prominent leader nearly split the party and bring down its government is yet another indication of the deep crisis within the Congress. Though the central leadership was instrumental in hammering out a deal with the rebels in Rajasthan, the crisis has once again exposed the frailties of the Congress high command, especially its inability to understand and manage ambitious young leaders and legislators. It will be unwise for the party to pretend that all’s well, now that the Ashok Gehlot government looks safe.
What looks like the resolution of the Rajasthan crisis has coincided with Sonia Gandhi completing a year as interim party president. The party has announced that she will continue in the post until an alternative leadership is installed. The absence of an agile, engaged leader has been one reason why the party continues to drift when the polity is desperately seeking an opposition voice that can pose hard questions to the government, and call it to account. The listlessness of the party is manifest in the inability of the Congress to put forth a coherent vision and strategy on important national issues ranging from the removal of the special status of J&K to the Ram Mandir shilanyas. Rahul Gandhi’s forays into policy debates, while well-intentioned, have failed to influence national conversation partly because he is seen to speak more for himself than for his party. Different party leaders offering contradictory views on national issues is a sign of the confusion within the party, not an indication of inner-party democracy, as the Congress might want others to believe.
In light of Rahul Gandhi’s ostensible reluctance to return as party chief, some Congress leaders have suggested that the party ought to hold organisational elections and elect a new president. These proposals have been met with a stony silence — the Congress seems in no mood to let go of its dependence on the Gandhi family and risk a transformation. Rajasthan should make the Congress recognise the urgency of addressing the leadership question. It can ill afford to lapse again into complacency or somnolence.
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