The vacuum in the Congress
It has been 65 days since Rahul Gandhi told the Congress Working Committee, on May 25, that he would like to take responsibility for the party’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections and would step down as party president. It has been 25 days since Gandhi, in a farewell note on July 3, went public with his decision to resign. This was his way of putting an end to speculation that he may reconsider his decision, and stop the party from urging him to stay on.
Never in Congress’ history has there has been a vacuum at the top, of this form, for so long. There persists uncertainty about the current structure of decision-making. Office-bearers are being appointed in the name of the Congress president, but there is no president. More significantly, the inability to come up with an alternative has had real political implications. There has been no review of the 2019 defeat. The Congress has been ineffective in Parliament, even as the government has pushed a range of legislations with far-ranging implications. In Karnataka, the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government has fallen, with Mr Gandhi, pointedly tweeting that vested interests, including from ‘within’, had targeted the government. This was an acknowledgment of the internal rivalries that destabilised the government in the state. Factional feuds have broken out in state units. The party has to prepare for five state assembly elections - Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and Delhi - in the next six to eight months. But even the most hardened optimists in Congress have almost written off prospects of succeeding. And most importantly for a political party, not only is the party worker on the ground demoralised, but cannot see hope for the future. And without hope, political mobilisation is enormously difficult. Except for Priyanka Gandhi’s foray to UP to express solidarity with the victims of the Sonbhadra killings, there has been no visible effort at political revival.
The CWC - which has to decide on the next president - has not met. Many names have done the rounds, but senior leaders seem unable to narrow down on whether to opt for a member of the ‘old guard’ or get a younger leader; whether to have a leader from the north or the south; whether to factor in caste. There is also lack of clarity on whether the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family will, ultimately, choose the president, or whether they will stay out of the process, as Mr Gandhi said he would in his note. Put it all together, and it is clear that India’s oldest party is perhaps facing its most severe crisis, paralysed by defeat and indecision. Unless it acts quickly, the road ahead will continue to be bleak.