2019 is not 1998. Sonia Gandhi's appointment as interim Congress president may unite the party for some time but it fails to address the root question of its decline and shrinking in various states. Yes, Sonia Gandhi will continue as the president for longer than what people think but she too stares at a hard road ahead. Though she has been made interim president, there will be no hurry in calling the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting. There is unlikely to be any challenger either. The reason is simple: Those who ensured that Sonia came back will also ensure that arrangement continues till she can function as the president. This arrangement makes (as I mentioned in my previous write up) Ahmed Patel a very important person in the scheme of things.
There is no doubt that Mr Patel did not have cosy relationship with Rahul Gandhi but he does enjoy a rapport with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Sonia's coming back and Rahul Gandhi functioning as a common MP will lead to re-consolidation of the team which worked with Sonia Gandhi from 1998 onwards. Another impact of the decision would be partial marginalisation of the office managers of Rahul Gandhi who enjoyed disproportionate power within the Congress party.
Another major change would be toning down of difference between the old and young Congress as the young will to be more flexible with Sonia's team. Though many believe they would still have ears of Priyanka Gandhi, if closely observed, the older leadership feels at home with Priyanka and would not mind accommodating the new faces brought in by Rahul Gandhi on her insistence. This move also marks entry of Priyanka Gandhi in the larger scheme of things. Now, Congress leaders are openly talking about Priyanka as a natural successor to Sonia than Rahul Gandhi. There are senior leaders in the Congress who believe that a particular section always preferred Priyanka over Rahul but had to keep quiet because of Sonia's insistence as Rahul taking over the party. But with Rahul staying firm on his decision, the equation has changed within the Congress, till sibling rivalry comes to fore.
The flip side is that Sonia Gandhi cannot be as active as she used to be in late 1990s. Sonia only focussed from 2010 onwards in projecting Rahul Gandhi as the real inheritor of the Congress. She will have to divert all her attention on bread and butter issues. She was brought in as the Congress president because the leaders at that point of time felt that Sitaram Kesari is not the totem pole around which Congress can fight BJP. This time Sonia's comeback is based more on internal power distribution in the party which lost its equilibrium after Rahul's entry into the mainstream organisation.
Priyanka Gandhi too has been politically exposed in the Lok Sabha elections. She will have to prove herself again in the next assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh if she wants to be taken seriously at the national level.
On the other hand, Congress is also all set to do badly again for next two years. There is no hope in hell for the Congress when it comes to assembly elections in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have workers but decisive leadership at the state does not exist.
More so, selection of Sonia Gandhi as the president shows Congress as a political outfit has become intellectually hollow and weak. It does not have a strong ideological foundation anymore. Karan Singh, who did a press conference 48 hours before abrogation of Article 370, praised it once it was passed. The Chief Whip of the Congress party in Rajya Sabha resigned after issuing a three-line whip.
Senior leaders spoke in different voice on this issue. The travesty is that CWC was called after BJP was able to successfully pass the bill in Rajya Sabha.
It showed that ideas do not bind Congress party together. It has forgotten what it used to be. Its institutional memory is limited to a family. On Saturday evening, it once again failed to show courage and demonstrate intellectual depth. It could not select a non-Gandhi. The old clique ensured that Sonia comes back so that it could function easily once again as Rahul Gandhi wanted to create a new at their expense. Rahul's venture would have worked in any other party but because he himself is a product of entitlement, his measures were never seen as convincing.
Congress today is behaving like an old conglomerate which has not understood that business of politics has changed in India. Congress cannot wait for BJP to make mistake. Congress feels that BJP has made a big mistake in Kashmir whereas rest of India feels that Modi has done the right thing. The message in rest of India is that nation is not a soft state which can be harassed by politicians who have sustained the idea of persecution and difference for decades in the Valley.
Congress also should not suffer from selective amnesia. It arrested and jailed the popularly elected chief minister Sheikh Abdullah throughout 50s and 60s. He returned to a normal life as a broken man. It can take a leaf out of BJP's book. When Indira reigned as a supreme leader, Jan Sangh was reborn as BJP in 1980. At its centre, there was a collegium of leaders and powerful satraps. It made BJP survive Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and Narsimha Rao. Congress need a collegium of leaders at the centre rather than the cult of Gandhis and Congress needs to understand this because as the biggest Opposition party, it is answerable to us, common citizens rather than one family.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)