Cong banks on longest serving chief for revival

Aditi Tandon
Indiatimesworld News Service
New Delhi, August 11

The return of Sonia Gandhi to the helm of affairs in Congress signals two things — the indispensability of the Gandhi family to the party’s scheme of things and the unstinted support Sonia Gandhi continues to enjoy 20 months after she retired as party president.

No Congress leader wanted Sonia to resign in December 2017 in the first place. It was her personal call to vacate the seat for son Rahul Gandhi and let him steer the party from there on. Rahul assumed Congress presidency from his mother in December 2017 and gave up the role, taking responsibility for the party’s 2019 LS poll loss.

Capt: Happy to see Sonia back in saddle

With consensus eluding a non-Gandhi president for 77 days after Rahul resigned on May 25, the Congress Working Committee on Saturday urged the party’s most “tried and tested” leader to show it the way at a time when the Congress is down to 52 MPs in the Lok Sabha, 46 MPs in the Rajya Sabha and five states — Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Puducherry.

Sonia Gandhi agreed to step in and fill the void to spare the grand old party the anxiety of operating in a vacuum. At 72, she accepted the role of interim chief in the wake of crucial state elections in Haryana, Jharakhand and Maharashtra later this year, consistent desertions from the party and BJP’s aggressive political push.

It was ironical that a few hours before Sonia donned the mantle of interim chief she had during an event here hailed late veteran Sheila Dikshit for “never shying away from responsibility.” 

Party leaders believe desertions will stop, considering most leaders still profess loyalty to Sonia, known in Congress circles for her sharp political acumen and fine judgement.

"Sonia Gandhi's return will assuage concerns of veterans like former Haryana CM Bhupinder Hooda, who were feeling anxious. Sonia Gandhi's mere presence will reassure leaders psychologically and give them a hope in the party's future," a veteran Congress man said, recalling how Sonia led the Congress to victory at the Centre in 2004 and 2009 and in many states.

Sonia had led the Congress to victory in seven states after she assumed party presidency in 1998.

She also led Congress to two consecutive wins at the Centre from 2004 to 2014. “She’s a fighter,” said a senior leader, adding the Congress had no future without the Gandhis. The turn of events on Saturday mirrored exactly that.

The CWC on Saturday passed resolutions to hail Rahul’s extraordinary leadership and express concern on the tensions in JK.

Old guard back

Sonia’s return heralds the return of old guard in the Congress, signalling the failure of the transition from old to young leadership which Rahul Gandhi experimented with on becoming party president in December, 2017. With Sonia’s return, her political adviser Ahmed Patel and other veterans are expected to get active. Patel had of late been lying low with the Rahul coterie dominating the party strategy.