Sonia Gandhi is all set to be re-elected as the Congress president for the fourth time this week. The election is expected to be unanimous since within her party she is the unchallenged leader. She will also perhaps become the longest-serving Congress president ever. This is significant since the grand old party is celebrating its 125th year.
However, what is to be seen is how her fourth term is going to be different from her three previous tenures since 1998 when she took over the reins of the Congress for the first time after much persuasion from veteran leaders Arjun Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and K. Natwar Singh among others. As she was not a Member of Parliament that time, the party constitution was amended to make a provision to make her first a member and subsequently the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP).
Two elections, one in late 2000 where she had to overcome a mild challenge from the late Jitendra Prasada, a one-time political adviser to Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, and another in 2005 that was a unanimous decision, have contributed to making her the most powerful leader in the subcontinent. Incidentally, Jitendra Prasada’s son, Jiten Prasada, is a minister in the UPA government.
Her fourth term also assumes significance since it is during this period that she may pave the way for her son, Rahul, to assume greater responsibility in the organisation as also later perhaps to take over as the leader of the CPP. Once he becomes the leader of the CPP, he becomes a contender for the position of prime minister, once occupied by three members of his family — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Thus, there is speculation over whether she will bring down the average age of those who are working in the organisation. So far, Sonia Gandhi has been dubbed a status quoist and has allowed some people to assume a lot of responsibilities. In some cases, there are party functionaries who are both office-bearers and ministers, giving an impression that there is a dearth of talent in the Congress.
It is to be seen whether she overhauls the party and assigns different responsibilities to the present lot of office-bearers and constitutes a team, which would be compatible with the working style of her son who’s seen as her natural successor. Every political party looks to the future and the Congress is no different. It has to prepare itself for the 2014 parliamentary poll and if it has to ensure that its USP of attracting younger voters has to be used again, the average age of the office-bearers will have to be nearer to Rahul’s. If this does not happen, his emergence may become difficult given that many in her party have either unfulfilled political ambitions or do not want the power centre to shift since they are in full control of matters. It is paramount for her to clip the wings of some of her advisers in a subtle but decisive way and make way for those who have not got a chance to serve the organisation, not because they are not loyal to her but because they have been kept out by some around her.
The UPA government’s image has suffered on account of the way the party has been run. The criticism is that the principle of one-man one-post has been flouted. Only the Congress president was earlier allowed to have this political privilege. Second, defeated candidates should not be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. To begin with some party functionaries who lost in the Lok Sabha made it to the upper House. Now even defeated candidates of MLA polls are being made members of the Rajya Sabha.
Finally, Sonia Gandhi must realise that she is the undisputed supremo of her party and anyone who tries to create an impression that there are elements wanting to challenge this assumption need to be shown the door first. Her decisions will directly impact Rahul’s future. Between us.