Sonia Gandhi now returns as interim president of the party she led for 19 years between 1998 and 2017 before handing the baton of the Congress presidency to her son Rahul in the “dynastic” party. The Congress Working Committee decided late Saturday night that Mrs Gandhi will be interim chief till the party can have a duly-elected president.
That doesn't sound so bad except that it is not clear when a regular internal election of the Congress can be held to find a successor to Rahul Gandhi, who resigned as president on May 25 as a ringing gesture of accountability after the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.
It is evident that party elections can’t be held until Assembly polls are over in a clutch of states later this year. Indeed, it may be suicidal to attempt such a thing. In the atmosphere of hyper majoritarian nationalism promoted by the BJP, the Congress is expected to fare poorly in these polls.
It will be a pity if that is cited as a reason to delay holding Congress' internal elections. If the party is to gain in strength, and regain credibility, the best vessel for this is an elected party chief and CWC, and the conduct of polls in the party down the line.
This is what Mr Gandhi had earnestly desired when he gave his resignation. He realised how much the “dynasty” jibe had hurt the Congress among an influential section of voters in the last Lok Sabha polls. That the Congress gained three per cent voteshare despite this and still had 12 crore Indians vote for it — against 17 crores for the BJP — can hardly be consolation enough, given the all too few seats it won.
The outgoing president had clearly said neither his mother nor his sister should succeed him. This was to dodge the “dynasty” bullet. It is true that, bowing to circumstances, his mother has had to come in as a stopgap leader.
Sonia Gandhi will now be judged on how soon she is able to hold regular party polls to elect the new leader.
In the past she has been judged very favourably. She revived a moribund party after 1998 and the Congress, under her leadership, went on to give two successive governments to the country by defeating the BJP-RSS. But the challenge to hold fresh internal polls will be daunting.
Apparently, Mrs Gandhi has had to step in now on account of acute internal dissonance. Some young pretenders might have alarmed the party by their stand on Kashmir and Article 370's abrogation. If nothing else, Mrs Gandhi is deemed a sureshot healer of inner rifts. She could also now use her gift of building bridges with like-minded parties to take on the larger BJP challenge. What can't be denied is that the Congress needs a makeover.