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Rajasthan Truce: Does Revival Of Congress Depend On The Gandhis?

Even a year after its defeat and Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, the Congress appears to be directionless: Javed Ansari

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Rahul Gandhi & Sachin Pilot used for representational purposes.
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The rapprochement brought about between the warring factions in Rajasthan has proved that the Gandhi family is still required to provide the healing touch and to keep the Congress together. It took the intervention and persuasive skills of Priyanka Gandhi to not only pull the party and the Gehlot government back from the brink but also make bitter rivals, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, smoke the peace pipe.

Why Congress Still Needs Gandhi Family To Offer Stability & Leadership

For decades, the Congress Party has had its umbilical chord tied to a family that now has its fifth generation providing leadership to it. Ideally, in a democracy, no political party should be tied to the apron strings of any family. However, given the Congress party’s history, and the way it is structured now, it still requires the Gandhi family to not just provide leadership and stability to the party – which currently is a pale shadow of the mighty behemoth that ruled this country for close to fifty years – but also to hold it together and prevent it from disintegrating.

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Undoubtedly some of the aura and the power that the family once wielded stands diminished. Over time, its hold over the electorate has weakened considerably and is in direct proportion to the phenomenal rise of the BJP. The last time that the Congress party won a majority on its own was in 1984 under Rajiv Gandhi. It was also the last time that a member of the Gandhi-Nehru family was prime minister. Since 1978 ––barring the period when PV Narasimha Rao became party president between 1991 to 1996, and after Sitaram Kesri’s short stint as president between 1996 and 1998 after Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic death — it has always been a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family who has been at the helm of the Congress party’s affairs.

During these brief phases under Rao and Kesri, the party was wracked with factional fights. In 1996, the Congress split with heavyweights like former UP CM, Narayan Dutt Tewari, Arjun Singh, ML Fotedar, and Natwar Singh left the party to form a breakaway faction called the Congress (T).

Kesri’s short tenure also saw a virtual exodus of talent from the party, and which was stemmed somewhat when Sonia Gandhi allowed herself to be persuaded to take up the party presidentship in 1998.

The Gandhis, too, have faced their share of opposition, both in the time of Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi as party presidents, but have always managed to ride out the storms.
Snapshot
  • The Gandhis have faced their share of opposition, both in the time of Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi as party presidents, but have always managed to ride out the storms.
  • Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, RPN Singh, Ajoy Kumar, Jitin Prasada, and Milind Deora were handpicked and were being groomed as the party’s leaders of the future.
  • Much hope was placed on these Generation Next leaders, particularly Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot.
  • The current crisis in the Congress Party is largely a result of the leadership vacuum caused by Rahul Gandhi’s abrupt resignation in the wake of the 2019 general election defeat.
  • Looking for somebody from outside the family to lead the party is like chasing a mirage.
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No New Leadership Has Emerged To Replace The Gandhis

Back-to-back defeats in the 2014 and 2019 general elections have raised questions about the Gandhi’s family’s ability to lead the party to victory at the polls. After every defeat, even in the state elections (and there have been quite a few of them), a large section of the commentariat has been very vocal about its opinion that it is time for the party to look beyond the Gandhis. The fact is that, while they currently may not be the force they once were, no new leadership has emerged to replace them.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, RPN Singh, Ajoy Kumar, Jitin Prasada, and Milind Deora were handpicked and were being groomed as the party’s leaders of the future. Along with the likes of Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Ajay Maken, they were made ministers in the UPA government.

Much hope was placed on these Generation Next leaders, particularly Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot.

Both have displayed a singular lack of spine and commitment in standing by the party during times of adversity. Scindia chose to defect to the BJP, a party his father, late Madhavrao Scindia, once termed as ‘deshdrohi’. Sachin Pilot stands somewhat diminished after the failure of his attempted coup against CM Gehlot in Rajasthan. Both Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh and Gehlot were entrusted with the chief ministership of their respective states but failed to rise above factionalism and provide the leadership needed to catapult them on to the next stage in party affairs.

Leadership Crisis: Cong Can’t Look Beyond Gandhis; Gandhis Can’t Look Beyond Rahul

The current crisis in the Congress Party is largely a result of the leadership vacuum caused by Rahul Gandhi’s abrupt resignation in the wake of the 2019 general election defeat. His steadfast refusal to take back his decision, and the party’s reluctance to decide on a successor, has led to a major sense of drift in the party. One major reason for this is the realisation within the party of the fact that the Gandhis, even with their limitations, remain their best bet.

“The revival of the Congress is not possible without the Gandhis. They have a national presence, the others merely have a regional presence. Without them at the helm, the party will splinter into different factions.” 
Congress Working Committee member
The party currently faces a peculiar dilemma. On one hand, it cannot look beyond the Gandhi family to provide leadership and, on the other, the family cannot look beyond Rahul Gandhi when it comes to taking on that role.

Looking for somebody from outside the family to lead the party is like chasing a mirage. The party cannot eternally wait for an alternate leadership to emerge. It is time for Rahul Gandhi to either return as President or let somebody else be elected president, even if it is from within the family. Time is running out for the Congress, and even a year after its defeat and Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, the party appears to be directionless. It needs ideological clarity, organisational restructuring and rebuilding, and, above all, a leader who can help the Congress reinvent itself and create a new narrative. The party may have managed to avert disaster in Rajasthan but failure to address the leadership question could now prove disastrous for it.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached @javedmansari . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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