All those who expected a reinventing of the Congress party under the leadership of a young, energetic and vibrant leader are disappointed with the second coming of Sonia Gandhi as the interim Congress President. Failure to choose a leader outside the Nehru-Gandhi family shows the helplessness of the party. It appears that the Congress is bereft of both idealism and leadership. The response of the Congress leaders to the scrapping of article 370 of the Indian constitution and downgrading the Jammu and Kashmir state into two union territories has exposed the confusion and lack of direction in the Congress party. After the May 2019 election, practically every day MLAs and MPs are leaving the Congress party and joining the BJP. It gives the impression that the Congress is a sinking ship with nobody willing to save it.
The Shiv Sena described the election of Sonia Gandhi as the interim Congress president as “inhuman”. An editorial in the party’s mouthpiece – Saamana – said that forcing Sonia Gandhi, who has been keeping unwell, to take charge of the grand old party should be seen as a big failure. The Times of India in its editorial on 13th August wrote, ‘Sonia Gandhi’s return as Congress president marks yet another reversal for the main opposition party, struggling to cope with the dramatic political changes unleashed by BJP’s phenomenal general election victory in 2019.” According to the editorial the reason for banking on Sonia Gandhi is the “intractable divides within the party”. The editorial concluded with a wise counsel to the Congressmen. “The best outcome for Congress would be if Sonia presides neutrally and impartially over a transition process in which Congress elects a new leader who’s not a Gandhi. Any other course does not equip the party to combat BJP’s political supremacy, spot new leaders or enthuse younger voters.”
Narendra Modi had promised a Congress mukt Bharat during his election campaign in 2014. Modi-Shah duo has been meticulously planning and implementing strategy after strategy to consolidate the Hindu votes and emasculate the Congress. The latest salvo was the abrogation of Article 370. According to the media forecast, the next could be passing anti-conversion bill by the parliament in its winter session. Each weapon used by the BJP confuses the Congress and further weakens it. More than the BJP’s onslaughts, the divisions within the Congress is harming it and helping the BJP to realize its dream of a Congress mukt Bharat.
The Congress party wasted 70 precious days, very crucial to the revival of the party. The party should have elected a new leader instead of beseeching the members of the Gandhi family to save it. In the absence of a leader at the top, the already demoralized party workers became disillusioned. Without seeing any future in the party MLAs and MPs left the party and joined the BJP. The BJP welcomed them in view of emasculating the Congress party.
A congress mukt Bharat has wider ramifications for the country and the future of democracy in India. The Congress is the only political party having a pan Indian presence. Through a policy of carrot and stick the BJP can deal with the regional parties. After the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the regional parties are on steady decline. If Congress disappears from the political scene there will be no opposition in the country and the establishment of Hindu Rashtra will be fully realized. The absence of a strong opposition in the parliament gives a free hand to the ruling party to make new laws and make amendments to the constitution. For example during the monsoon session of the parliament 26 bills were passed by both houses of the parliament. None of the bills were referred to parliament committee or select committee for detailed study. The opposition leaders wanted some of the contentious bills like Triple Talaq Bill, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill, National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, Right to Information Bill and National Medical Commission Bill to be referred to select committees. As the BJP has brute majority in the Lok Sabha and it could manage the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the bills were passed without sufficient deliberation and discussion. Absence of a strong opposition party to coordinate other small opposition parties is helping the ruling party to become dictatorial. This is dangerous for the nation. The Congress party is miserably failing in its responsibility to the people and the nation because of its inability to function as an effective opposition.
The crucial challenge before Sonia Gandhi is to unite the old guards and the young generation of the party and hand over the reins of the party to a leader outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi was the longest serving president in the Congress party’s 134 year history. She was the Congress president for about two decades. Her greatest failure was to groom a leader to take charge of the party. Now she cannot afford to neglect this great responsibility. If she succeeds in this task, it will be her biggest contribution not only to the Congress party but also to the nation. When she refused to don the mantle of the Prime Minister of India in 2009 and made Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister, it was projected as a great sacrifice on her part. Sonia Gandhi needs a greater sacrifice at this juncture for ending the centrality of the Nehru-Gandhi family in the Congress party. This can be done only by evolving a consensus within the party to choose a young and dynamic leader who can challenge the Modi-Shah juggernaut.
In the absence of a coherent and unifying ideology, the Nehru-Gandhi family functioned as a glue of the Congress party. In the current political scenario the family name is becoming a liability. The young generation of Indians do not know the contribution of the family to building modern India. On the contrary, the focused attack on Gandhi-Nehru legacy by the advancing Hindutva forces contributed to further erosion of the family’s influence on the Indian society. Moreover, increasing number of Indians detests dynastic politics and the privileges attached to it. Against this backdrop, the insistence of Rahul Gandhi to elect a leader outside the Gandhi family makes sense. Sonia Gandhi has to listen to the wise counsel of her son if the Congress is to survive the Hindutva tsunami.
While searching for a dynamic leader and building consensus within the party, Sonia Gandhi needs to make serious effort to evolve an ideology and narrative as an alternative to the Hindu nationalism. By focusing on the emotional issues, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar are diverting the attention of the people from the real issues and weakening the nation. The economy is in a very bad shape. The slump in the automobile industry is only a symptom of the economic slowdown. As per the data released by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, overall passenger vehicle sale plummeted to 31% in July 2019 and around 2,30,000 auto sector jobs have been lost within an year. It is the worst slump witnessed by the auto sector in the past 19 years. This is an opportune time for the Congress to evolve a vision for the nation rooted in its core values and at the same time appealing to the aspirational new generation of Indians.
In the current political scenario when BJP appears to unstoppable, Sonia Gandhi may not be able to revive the fortunes of the Congress, but she has an opportunity to pave the way for the revival of the party by preparing the party to elect a young, dynamic and capable leader outside the Gandhi-Nehru family.
(Published on 19th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 34)