AFTER over two months of chaos, confusion and cluelessness, the Congress finally has a ‘new’ president. Rahul Gandhi’s much-awaited successor is none other than his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who has already led the party for two decades and is now well past her prime. Rahul’s resignation, which had come shortly after the May 23 debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, and his insistence that the high command should look beyond the Gandhis for leadership had raised hopes of an unprecedented churning, a fresh start that might help the Grand Old Party rise from the ashes. However, just when it appeared possible for the Congress to take a historic step forward, it has instead taken two backwards.
The Congress Working Committee has stubbornly refused to sever the umbilical cord that connects it to the Gandhi family. Ironically, the veterans who had been raising the pitch for a young leader at the helm are now hailing the appointment of the septuagenarian Sonia. They are saying that she is the best bet under the present circumstances; what they are not admitting is that the party's strategic bankruptcy has been woefully exposed. Blame it on the old guard’s unswerving loyalty to the Gandhi family or the latter’s reluctance to loosen its stranglehold on the party, the Congress finds itself at the crossroads all over again.
Now that the leadership issue has been resolved in the most simplistic and predictable of ways, the party should get down to the brass tacks without further delay. Sonia as president is certainly not a long-term prospect, but she can go all out to keep the party within the family. Being the single largest opposition party, the Congress needs to counter the dominant BJP in one voice. The upcoming Assembly elections in Jharkhand, Haryana and Maharashtra will test whether the Congress still has the uncanny knack for bouncing back. More setbacks could prompt Sonia to search for her own successor. Don’t be surprised if that search starts and ends at her home.