Just Like Congress, Even Gandhis Can’t Let Go of the ‘Dynasty’
Sonia Gandhi (left) and Rahul Gandhi looking on. 
Sonia Gandhi (left) and Rahul Gandhi looking on. (Photo: Reuters)

Just Like Congress, Even Gandhis Can’t Let Go of the ‘Dynasty’

Finally, the old guard of the Congress has prevailed. Rahul Gandhi and his cheerleaders have been effectively isolated.

This was the ringing message from the day-long deliberations of the Congress Working Committee on Saturday, 10 August, which chose to hand over the reins of the party back to Sonia Gandhi, who had stepped down in 2017 to make way for her son.

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When Rahul Gandhi put in his papers as Congress president in May following the party’s disastrous performance in the last Lok Sabha poll, his decision predictably threw the party into a state of turmoil.

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Old Guards Vs Young Turks

A rudderless Congress grappled with this issue for nearly three months. But as these backroom deliberations continued, the perennial divide between the party’s old guard (Sonia loyalists) and the Gen Next leaders soon came to the fore.

This was particularly so once it became evident that the party’s old guard was pushing for a candidate of its choice. These included Mallikarjun Kharge, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Mukul Wasnik.

Very soon there were voices suggesting that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra take over as Congress chief. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh declared that the baton should be handed over to a young leader. He drew instant support from several younger leaders like Milind Deora and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor wanted elections to be conducted for all key posts, including the president and the working committee. Sachin Rao, Rahul Gandhi’s aide, dashed off letters to senior party leaders asking questions about the ongoing process of picking a new Congress president and also pushed for internal elections.

Manish Tewari went on record to state that like Rahul Gandhi, other leaders should also uphold the principle of accountability for the party’s disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha polls.

And when Rahul Gandhi suggested that the choice of the next party chief should be widened beyond the membership of the working committee to include state unit presidents, legislature party leaders and a battery of party functionaries, the message was loud and clear: Rahul Gandhi was not in sync with the party’s old guard.

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Congress’ Continuing Dependence on Gandhi Family

It was against this backdrop that the Congress Working Committee, through a process of wide consultations, eventually prevailed upon Sonia Gandhi to take charge of the party once again.

The relief among the senior party leaders was palpable when the final announcement was made late Saturday night.

This move also signals the Congress party’s continuing dependence on the Gandhi family. Conversely, it also shows that the Gandhi family is in no mood to entrust the party to an outsider.

When he stepped down as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi had recommended that no member of the Gandhi family should be considered for the post. Yet when it came to the crunch, the Congress found it difficult to cut the umbilical cord with the Gandhi family.

The fact that the party cannot think beyond the Gandhis was clear when leaders who were consulted on Saturday wanted Rahul Gandhi to continue.

Alternatively, their preference was for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. When both declined, they turned to Sonia Gandhi to take over even as many leaders threatened that they would not work under anyone but a member of the Gandhi family.

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It is an undeniable fact that the Congress has, over the years, become synonymous with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Though the party has named Sonia Gandhi as interim party chief  “pending the election of a regular president”, the possibility of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being picked for the post at a later stage cannot be ruled out.

‘Even Gandhis Have No Desire to Relinquish Their Control of the Party’

The party banks on the family to keep it united and also to win elections.

Sonia Gandhi did steer the Congress out of a crisis when she took over as Congress president in 1998 and led it to two Lok Sabha victories. However, the party’s fortunes have been dipping in recent years as the dynasty has been found wanting on both counts.

The presence of a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm has not helped the Congress which has suffered a series of electoral defeats and witnessed a steady erosion in its ranks over the past five years.

Yet when the Congress was presented with an opportunity to discard the “family crutch” and start afresh with a non-Gandhi at the helm, it clearly chose not to do so.

If the Congress is unable to forsake the Gandhi family,  the party’s “first family” also has no desire to relinquish its control of the party. Rahul Gandhi is known to be rash and impetuous but Sonia Gandhi understands that if the family takes a backseat today, it will not be long before it is rendered irrelevant.

It was precisely for this reason she ensured she remained an important power center when Sitaram Kesari was party president or when she picked Manmohan Singh for the Prime Minister’s post in 2004.

Kesari was forcibly evicted from his office when he started taking independent decisions.

Sonia Gandhi is well aware that having successfully defamed the Congress  for its “dynastic politics”, the Bharatiya Janata Party will not stop till the Gandhis are banished into political oblivion.

Slapped with several corruption cases by the Modi government, the inquiries against the Gandhis are bound to pick up speed in the coming days. The family needs the backing of the party at this crucial juncture. And Sonia Gandhi understands this all too well.

(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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