The future of the Congress has never been so uncertain, as it is today. The party, which celebrated its 128th foundation day last week, seems to be confused. Having lost power in Delhi and Rajasthan in the recently concluded assembly polls and having failed to topple the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress is apparently headed for its lowest tally in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
The party is facing a revolt in certain parts of the country and if the party fares badly in the 2014 general elections, the rebellion may spread. So far, the rank and file accepts Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as their supreme leaders but if the party is defeated in 2014, their leadership maybe questioned. This happened even to Indira Gandhi, arguably the greatest mass leader of the last century, when she lost in 1977. Political veterans recall that within the Congress, senior leaders questioned her credentials forcing a split in the party. It was her fighting spirit and the support she received from her son Sanjay Gandhi and his loyalists that brought the Congress back to power in 1980. Though Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash six months later, his supporters have continued to dominate Congress politics to this day.
There are very few leaders who have risen in the organisation or developed as mature politicians in the last 30 years other than those who did their political apprenticeship under Indira Gandhi or Sanjay Gandhi. Therefore, when one looks at the Congress now, there is hardly anyone who can be identified as a fighter who can put things back in shape. To her credit, Sonia Gandhi has carried the party on her shoulders for over 15 years, including the 10 the Congress has been in power at the Centre. She is eager to pass on the responsibility to the next generation but due to some reasons that she only can explain, things do not seem to be working out.
Rahul Gandhi has been taking a keen interest in the day-to-day affairs since the last few months but he is either ill-advised or has not been able to understand what makes this party tick. Among the many obstacles he faces is resistance from those who have been close to his mother and who fear that his emergence may happen at their cost.
Some of them have tried to harm his interests and thus have also damaged the prospects of the party. But these people are an experienced lot and Rahul Gandhi will do well if he abides by their advice on crucial issues since elections are a few months away and risks cannot be taken.
One of the many criticisms levelled on the Congress vice-president is that he has chosen wrong people to be the face of the party in television debates on crucial issues. Some of the chosen ones do not even know the background and ideology of the Congress. The other criticism is that he has to improve his communication skills with party workers, a dying species. The Congress vice-president has to understand that if the party infrastructure is not intact and the leadership is surrounded by sycophants, it will be difficult to fight back when the time comes.
The next few months are his biggest test where he has to put in place a team of committed activists who will stick with him no matter what the results in the general elections are. Rahul Gandhi should not hesitate to become the party's prime ministerial candidate during the All India Congress Committee meeting this month. This step will ensure that the party remains in his hands. Subsequently, he has to prepare himself to be a Sanjay Gandhi to his mother in 2014 if they have to keep the party together.
Pankaj Vohra is a political analyst and commentator
The views expressed by the author are personal