To stem the anarchy that had come to characterise the Congress party, with state leaders sensing that all was not well after the defeat in the May Lok Sabha election and then switching over to the ruling party in several cases, Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch, had to step in as the interim president. But that did not arrest the slide.
Ms Gandhi is seen as an astute figure and commands respect. As Congress chief for two decades, she showed ideological sturdiness, and has by and large worked on the basis of organising a consensus beyond her own party.
Nevertheless, Ms Gandhi can be said to be facing the toughest test of her life. When she came on the scene with her party faltering and Sitaram Kesri at its helm, the BJP was not the force it has become in the past five years. More, it did not have an equivalent of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team, for which no political tactic is proscribed by established mores.
No less pertinently, the Congress is today a weak body, whose presence is no more to be felt in a large number of states. Even on a critical issue such as Kashmir, leading Congressmen — possibly preparing the pitch to jump ship and join the BJP — spoke the ruling party’s language.
Owning responsibility for the Lok Sabha defeat under his leadership, Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president as any honourable man should. But he erred in not making sure there was a coherent succession plan through a proper organisational poll. He seemed in a hurry so as not to attract the dynasty charge. The party was not prepared for it, and matters became worse on the organisational plane. Ms Gandhi stepping into the breach was not part of the original script.
She has not been in her present position long, but things seem so far gone that even her formal return at the top is yet to carry with it the message of the party being a steady ship.
From the factional warfare perspective, some of the worst-hit states are Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress won elections fair and square late last year even as the Modi magic was on display, and formed governments. In Karnataka, the Congress forfeited its coalition government chiefly on account of faction play by its tallest leaders who undermined alliance partner Janata Dal (Secular).
When the so-called high command remained a mute spectator then, it is hardly any surprise that key state-level Congress figures in Maharashtra are switching over to the BJP with the Assembly election only about a month away. This defines the scale of the problem that confronts Ms Gandhi. The one positive to emerge is that she has patched up factional feuds in Haryana, also poll-bound along with Maharashtra.
Sonia Gandhi’s sessions with the top state leaders, held mid-week, can produce results based only on her reputation. The aim must be to produce better results in the state polls than is anticipated....