Congress’ new leader is the old one

Sonia Gandhi

The Congress is back to square one, and to the comfort of the past at a time when it has to look forward to the future, with the choice of Sonia Gandhi as its interim president. It is a sign of failure of the party that it could not agree on a successor to Rahul Gandhi after he resigned in the wake of the defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The party did not seriously look for a new leader and spent most of that period trying to persuade Rahul Gandhi to review his decision or to get Priyanka Gandhi to agree to don the mantle. When both these did not happen, the old guard could not but fall back on Sonia who had led the party for 19 years before she passed the baton on to Rahul. It is an irony that the new leader is only the old leader. For Sonia perhaps, it may have been a request which she could not refuse, though she is not in the best of health. 

The working committee’s decision to go back to the Gandhi family has been predictably hailed by leaders at all levels in the party. But the relief, and the clinging to familiarity, only underline the inability of the party to face the most difficult situation it finds itself in now. It is facing a new political reality with the march of the BJP and the shrinking of the space for the Opposition. The lack of leadership has hurt the Congress badly, as its performance in Parliament and outside has shown in the past few weeks. It has spoken in different voices even on important issues like Kashmir. Many leaders have left the party and the cadres are demoralised. It has lost its government in Karnataka. There is confusion over policies and direction, and the party has been found wanting in challenging the BJP’s ideology, strategy and leadership. There is a young, aspirational class of voters coming to the fore, but the Congress has yet to find ways to connect to them 

That the 130-year-old party, which has ruled the country for many decades and has a presence everywhere, cannot find a leader other than three members of a family will send only a poor message about it to the country. Sonia starts her new term in that background. She has many challenges before her: to stabilise the party, which is adrift, make it ready to face the upcoming elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, and most importantly, to reorganise it democratically and get a leader elected through due process. She had once revived the party which was in a bad shape, but the task is much harder now. 

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