In a late-night announcement on Saturday, Congress Working Committee (CWC) the main executive body of the grand old party announced the appointment of Sonia Gandhi for the top post in the party. While Rahul Gandhi had tendered his resignation a few weeks back citing the disastrous performance of the party in 2019 general elections, this announcement has finally ended the suspense over possible change in Congress’ organizational structure and leadership culture; this announcement also comes at a critical time when the party has been facing rebellion over its stance on the legislative developments in the two newly formed union territories.
While the grand old party had been testing the rough waters after massive corruption scandals had rocked the nation during the later part of UPA rule from 2004 to 2014, Congress got its major jolt in the 2014 general elections. Despite overarching efforts, in the 2014 general elections, the grand old party faced a humiliating defeat by posting its worst-ever performance in its electoral history. A party which had once ruled with more than 400 seats in the Lower House was just reduced to 44 seats. While rampant corruption was the major agenda driving the debate, a dearth of credible leadership on part of Congress in face of Narendra Modi of the NDA surely played a critical part in bringing the grand old party to where it was.
However, despite this massive roadblock, the Congress managed to save its ship with all the major leaders reiterating their allegiance to Nehru-Gandhi family specifically to Rahul Gandhi who was ‘elected’ as the new Congress chief in December 2017 after Sonia Gandhi who had been running the party since 1998. However, for the Congress’ organization, their trust in the Gandhi family was yet to be tested in the turbulent state assembly elections. The 2014 state assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, 2015 state assembly elections in Bihar and Delhi, 2016 state assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal , 2017 state assembly elections in Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and 2018 state assembly elections in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Telangana and Tripura, Congress lost on all fronts mainly to its principle opposition the BJP and other regional forces like AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and Left in Kerala. While Nehru-Gandhi family held reins of the grand old party Congress was virtually reduced to irrelevance
While Congress was successful in registering victories in certain state assembly like in 2017 Punjab assembly elections, other marginal victories like in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh assembly elections were marred with first signs of internal skirmishes in the party. Different Congress factions led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath surfaced in Madhya Pradesh, while Rajasthan witnessed a confrontation between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
The mandate in 2019 general elections, which many believed would decide the fate of Gandhi family in Congress, conclusively rejected Rahul Gandhi led Congress and again brought Narendra Modi led BJP to power. However contrary to the defeat in 2014 general elections, the 2019 embarrassment was well poised to hurt the credibility of the Gandhi family even amongst the most loyal Congress politicians; a number of dissenting voices had surfaced in a party which has been largely run as a private entity over decades. Earlier in the run-up to the general elections, several Congress leaders had also slammed the Congress for its “dynasty politics“, and also pointed out at the “use and throw” culture.
While the Congress camp was yet to recover from the electoral whitewash and unprecedented leadership crisis, another jolt came when the top leadership of the Congress took a party-line against the historic move of the Modi government to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
What started with party’s Rajya Sabha MP and chief whip Bhubaneshwar Kalita resigning from the house in opposition to the party’s stand on the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir had now translated into several big names coming out openly in support of the government in direct contradiction to the Congress’ party line and in ultimate defiance to the Gandhi family diktat.
One of the most prominent names in the list is of party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. In a tweet, the Congress leader has supported the Modi government’s move on abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation and called this to be a step in national interests. He tweeted, “I support the move on #JammuAndKashmir & #Ladakh and its full integration into union of India. Would have been better if constitutional process had been followed. No questions could have been raised then. Nevertheless, this is in our country’s interest and I support this.”
Would have been better if constitutional process had been followed. No questions could have been raised then. Nevertheless, this is in our country’s interest and I support this.
— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) August 6, 2019
Other Congress leaders who went against the Gandhi family diktat included Deepender Hooda, Janardan Dwivedi, Aditi Singh and Milind Deora. A number of top leaders overtly raising voice against the Gandhi family line on Article 370 is not only unprecedented but also indicates possible fissures in their loyalty towards the Gandhi family.
Now following all the major electoral debacles and more recent massive intra-party opposition campaign against the party line on Article 370, it was expected for the Gandhi family to step down and pass the baton to second-line young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora or Sachin Pilot who all were believed to be the top contenders for leading the party. Nonetheless, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) filled with Gandhi loyalists has yet once again banked on the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family and passed the baton to Sonia Gandhi.
Desperate times call for desperate measures; alas this move by Congress might have been taken in desperate times but is surely not desperate; this move to keep the leadership within Gandhi family only indicates towards the true nature of the Congress which rather than a political organization has worked as a private limited company with Gandhis at the helm calling all the shots. However, this dissent in Congress over the abrogation of Article 370 and ultimately against the Gandhi family will surely have a long term and conclusive impact on the party and further catalyze an imminent implosion.