Faced with an existentialist crisis, the Congress has chosen to fall back on the tried and trusted Sonia Gandhi to provide leadership to the party and try to keep it united as the BJP strengthens its grip over the power structures in the country.
Congress leaders across the country rushed to welcome the return of Sonia Gandhi at the helm of the party as the Congress Working Committee (CWC) made a late night announcement on Saturday about her appointment as the party's interim president.
Congress sources said that it was the argument of the party withering away in the absence of a Gandhi at the helm that helped the 72-year-old Sonia change her mind and agree to return as the party president, albeit for a brief period— “pending the election of a regular president by the AICC”.
A section of Congress leaders view the late Saturday night developments as a return to the “old predictable times”, while some others see this as a “missed opportunity at intra-party reforms”.
“Happy to see Smt. Sonia Gandhi ji back in the saddle. It was the best decision in the current circumstances. Her experience and understanding will help guide Congress,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said.
Former Union minister Shashi Tharoor, who has been quite vocal about party affairs, also welcomed Sonia's appointment saying it is the “best decision in current circumstances”.
“Let elections allow party workers to decide who should lead the party,” Tharoor said.
However, he was given a taste of his own medicine by historian, William Dalrymple, who felt it was a poor decision.
“Strong leadership which retains the unity and integrity of the party is necessary when the going gets tough and Sonia ji has the experience and ability to deliver,” Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said.
Sonia Gandhi’s second innings at the helm come in somewhat similar circumstances of 1998, when the Congress had lost two consecutive elections and going through upheaval over the then party chief Sitaram Kesri’s leadership.
When Sonia joined the Congress in December 1997, it was in a matter of three months that the “loyalists” ensured a rather unceremonious ouster of Kesri.
At the CWC meeting on March 14, 1998, Kesri’s only loyalist was Tariq Anwar, while Pranab Mukherjee read out a resolution “thanking” him for his services”.
As Kesri left the meeting in a huff, Mukherjee declared that the CWC had not adjourned and had Sonia ushered in and declared Congress president.