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Congress must take a call on leadership, urgently

But the Congress must get out of its self-induced stupor and decide on the question of leadership urgently. Otherwise it stares at the prospect of large-scale desertions, factional wars, a demoralised cadre, and more electoral setbacks.

editorials Updated: Jul 09, 2019 18:36 IST
Hindustan Times
United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, New Delhi, 2019(AP)

As an elder statesman of the Congress, who has worked with four generations of party leaders right from Jawaharlal Nehru, Karan Singh’s views carry political weight. In a public statement on Monday, an exasperated Mr Singh said he was “aghast” to see the “confusion and disorientation” in the Congress since Rahul Gandhi decided to step down as president after the election results. Mr Singh recommended that a Congress Working Committee (CWC) be called urgently, an interim president be appointed, and younger leaders be given an opportunity by picking them as four working presidents/vice presidents in-charge of north, south, east and west India.

His public intervention comes at a time when there is utter uncertainty within the party ranks about who is in-charge, and rumours abound in New Delhi about the possible alternatives to Mr Gandhi. Three problems are visible, which perhaps is making a decision difficult. The first is there is no clarity on who will indeed take the decision. Formally, it has to be the CWC - but whether it will serve as a rubber stamp or will indeed have a frank and open discussion is not certain. Mr Gandhi said he will not be a part of the process and has empowered a group of senior leaders. But whether these senior leaders can indeed take a decision autonomously and enforce it is not clear because everyone in the party believes that the next president must have the support of the Nehru-Gandhi family - and therefore are spending time second-guessing their choices. It is also unclear if the next president is a mere interim measure till, say, Priyanka Gandhi takes over or will actually be able to exercise power.

The second issue is whether it should be a senior leader or whether the generational transition effected with Mr Gandhi’s elevation should persist. If it is the former, can the leader actually inspire the rank and file and bring the Congress out of the present crisis? If it is the latter, will the senior leaders accept someone who is still in their 40s or early 50s? The third issue is whether it should be someone from the north or south. The party has done well in the south - so it will be tempting to pick someone from the region - but the challenge is in reviving the party in the north and west, among social groups, which have deserted the Congress - and so it is perhaps more prudent to pick a leader from the heartland. An electoral shock of this magnitude can unsettle any party. But the Congress must get out of its self-induced stupor and decide on the question of leadership urgently. Otherwise it stares at the prospect of large-scale desertions, factional wars, a demoralised cadre, and more electoral setbacks.

First Published: Jul 09, 2019 18:34 IST