Sonia Gandhi has been appointed the Interim Congress President by consensus after a long interval of speculation. The move came as a surprise to many, as Rahul Gandhi himself had plumped for a non-Gandhi at the helm. However, with Congress facing its worst crisis till date, Sonia Gandhi’s return to the top job might be warranted for the party to survive. Although Congress general secretary Mukul Wasnik was seen to be the frontrunner when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) was scheduled to meet and pick an interim president on August 10, the party went for the safest choice in persuading a semi-retired Sonia Gandhi to take over the reins.
The CWC had gone for wider consultations with the party MPs, Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC) and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leaders, at the behest of Rahul Gandhi. Ironically, with everyone having to record and note down their nominee for president, no name apart from Rahul Gandhi’s or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s came up. With Rahul Gandhi remaining adamant on his decision to quit and his sister not willing to take up the mantle, Sonia Gandhi was a consensus choice.
It is assumed that Sonia Gandhi’s return to the top job is the only way to prevent the disintegration of the party at this juncture. However, things may not be easy for Gandhi, unlike what was the case in 1998, when she took charge at a similarly chaotic time. The Congress’ organisation is in disarray in many states and the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is expanding its footprint ruthlessly in state after state. With three states — Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand — set to go to the polls in the next 100 days, and Delhi to follow soon after that, Sonia Gandhi has to hit the ground running.
Also, as the interim president, Sonia Gandhi will be expected to chart out internal elections within the party to elect a full-time President. As the Congress constitution doesn’t say anything about how long an interim president can helm the party, it is entirely possible that she will keep the seat warm till Rahul or Priyanka eventually take over.
So, despite such a sorry state of affairs, why is Sonia Gandhi’s comeback warranted?
For a start, it may prevent further desertions from the party, which a non-Gandhi at the helm may have engendered.
It is in this larger context, along with other considerations that the Congress has gone back to the tried-and-tested Sonia Gandhi, its longest serving President (1998-2017). There is the familiar refrain of ‘old guard versus new guard’ — yet, the ‘old guard’ was never sidelined even during Rahul Gandhi’s short tenure as President, albeit his tendency to not keep the CWC in the loop while taking important decisions.
Sonia Gandhi will have to address the question of ideology sooner than later. As there are conflicting opinions from within on how to deal with the BJP juggernaut — there are Left-wing and Right-wing choices — the Congress will have to steadfastly adhere to its liberal principles to remain a viable national alternative.