Rahul as LoP, a non-Gandhi as Congress chief: Will it work?

·Columnist
·4-min read

As per reports, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi has formulated a plan to end the stalemate in the party over who will take over the reins and meet some of the demands of rebel ‘Group of 23’.

Three proposals are on the table:

1. Rahul makes a comeback as party President

Sonia Gandhi’s son and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi is re-appointed as Congress president. Team Rahul is apparently keen that their leader reclaims the top post from which he resigned taking responsibility for the dismal show in the 2019 general elections. Rahul apparently is not that keen and still insists that a non-Gandhi be party president.

2. Rahul becomes LoP in Lok Sabha, a non-Gandhi is party chief

The second proposal is that Rahul takes over the Leader of Opposition post from Adhir Ranjan Choudhary in the Lok Sabha. This will pave the way for a non-Gandhi Congress president to the satisfaction of the rebel group, G-23, which has been demanding elections be held for organisational polls. Kamal Nath or some other senior leader is appointed as Congress president in this formula.

3. Sonia Gandhi is appointed regular President till 2024

The third option is if no consensus is reached on any of the above two options, Sonia be appointed president till the 2024 general elections. Kamal Nath to be appointed as political secretary to Sonia in place of late Ahmad Patel. Sonia has been the interim president for the last two years.

Congress party facing an existential crisis

The Congress party is facing a crisis in state units in Punjab (Amarinder Singh vs Navjot Sidhu), Haryana (Bhupinder Hooda vs Selja Kumari), Rajasthan (Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot) and Karnataka (DK Shivakumar vs Siddaramaiah).

There is a general feeling among political commentators (some of whom have been following the party for decades) that the High Command has lost control and frequent electoral setbacks have reduced its moral authority to rule.

Will these plans work? Let’s analyse each one of them:

1. Rahul coming back as Congress president will result in a 3rd contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and himself in the 2024 general elections. Rahul has lost the previous two contests in 2014 and 2019 badly. A third humiliating loss could finish his career forever.

More than anyone else, the Bharatiya Janata Party will be most happy with this decision as Rahul is fast losing popularity, his strengths and weaknesses are known, and he doesn’t generate confidence even amongst hardcore Congress supporters.

Even while Modi’s popularity dipped temporarily during the second COVID-19 wave, Rahul didn’t benefit at all and his ratings didn’t improve.

Rahul resigned owning up the responsibility for the electoral losses and if he makes a comeback at this juncture it would not send the right signals. The party has continued with its poor streak in state elections in 2021, losing even in Kerala from where he is an MP.

The party lost Puducherry to the BJP, couldn't snatch Assam from the saffron party despite strong anti-CAA sentiment in the state, and scored a duck in West Bengal.

2. Rahul becoming LoP in the Lok Sabha and a non-Gandhi taking on the party Presidency could work with the rebels. This will lessen the criticism the Gandhis face about dynastic politics and lead to division of power and responsibility at the top. It will also lead to a blend of the young and the old guard in the party and the Parliament with this arrangement.

However, can a Gandhi work under a non-Gandhi? Will the Congress president be a loyalist/rubber stamp, with the Gandhis pulling the strings from behind? Will he/she be able to exercise authority and bring widespread changes? These are some of the questions which will remain.

Further, Lok Sabha speeches are televised widely and have high TRP ratings. Even the greatest supporters of Rahul would admit that he is no match for the oratory skills of Modi. The prime minister could tear him apart in debates like in previous occasions and this will not be a good sight for the party.

The LoP is a constitutional post which comes with responsibility and obligations. Rahul’s track record has been far from great on these two counts. He has skipped Parliament during important sessions like Budget in the past.

3. Sonia becoming president till 2024 will be a retrograde step. Although it will point towards continuity, it will show that the party couldn’t reach consensus on the organisational posts. It would send the wrong message and may not infuse energy in the cadre.

It will also show that the Gandhis are reluctant to shed the top post and loosen their grip over the party. It could lead to a revolt with some leaders, possibly from the G-23 group, leaving the party.

To sum up, the changes in the Congress are being keenly watched and will have far-reaching repercussions on the grand old party’s future.

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