24th August witnessed a major political drama unfold in Congress, as Sonia Gandhi decided to proceed with her presidency while outside, party workers amassed reverential mottoes.
The CWC assemblage progressed as predicted. Sonia was initially firm on quitting, but then all the leaders’ inputs were lessened to petty & pleading and protestations of faith until she agreed to remain the president of Congress.
The crisis occurred because of the standard trope of Congress’ belief that the party is discreditable without a Nehru-Gandhi heading it. Congress MLA from Haryana (who ran a one-person campaign against COVID-related layoffs) pointed out: “The Congress has less than 600 MLAs. It would have been good if the high command had reached out to us during the last few months.”
Similar anxieties were reflected in the letter written by 23 party leaders to Sonia, suggesting a revision of the Congress’s structure. Although many of them transparently had their own ax to grind, the letter acknowledged the urgent crises in which the party found itself. It revealed the views of the Congress-leaders, hundreds of who validated their concern towards inappropriate leadership.
The advantages of the suggestions included in the letter were unseemly; the very fact that it sought full-time leadership and a measure of internal democracy was seen as a move to test the family’s limits.
As expected, the leaders who supported the family were the ones who were currently well-placed in the party, in the closed ranks around the Nehru-Gandhis. On the night of the CWC, calls were made to MPs and office-bearers, advising them to forward letters swearing their unconditional devotion towards the Nehru-Gandhis. “It is the usual nautanki, some leaders showing they are more loyal than the king,” said one such office-bearer.
Congress chose to follow the same empty script. The leaders submitted themselves and consequently strengthened the dynasty, but weakened the party.
In 1999, party workers warned Congress regarding self-immolation unless Sonia Gandhi admitted continuing as the party president. In 2004, an MP said that he would blow his brains out if she did not become prime minister. More recently, in 2019, a worker threatened he would hang himself after Rahul Gandhi quit as a president.
Every time the slightest shadow of critique touches the Nehru-Gandhis, their foot soldiers stage an uncalled show of solidarity. Self-proclaimed Priyanka supporter Jagdish Sharma has often been at the vanguard of such demonstrations.
The fact that the humble dependence of the Congress on the family is inversely proportional to its support base seems counter-intuitive. But as long as in-house political rivalries plague, the Nehru-Gandhis will remain at the rudder.
The recent call to the dynasty was a long-awaited one. The rumbling within had been getting progressively louder as the family turned a deaf ear to echoing pleas for organizational repair. The party’s indifference, other than a random tweet, became unacceptable.
The Delhi assembly polls were a reality check, confirming that it is the regional forces that stand to benefit from the BJP’s mistakes and not the Congress. The migrant crisis extended a window of improvement. Still, Congress failed to react, and it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who gave a lesson in making political capital from a disaster.
In the meantime, Rahul Gandhi, who held the party’s experts rather than his flawed political strategies responsible for the 2019 failure, tenaciously clung to the same policy. A sense of disappointment grew, and Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha tried to oppose this age-old policy, but he was silenced, and all his suggested reforms were left unconsidered.
As usual, rather than accepting a change, Congress opted to go with the same old flow. The Nehru-Gandhis no longer have control over the constituencies or the moral authority to discipline unruly state satraps. As of now, it is indeed quite evident that this dynasty has now become a bitter obligation to the Congress party & its leaders.