A month after the election results announced the decimation of the Congress, it is clear that the transition of power that was to take place — placing party vice-president Rahul Gandhi as in-charge of the 128-year-old organisation — has been delayed again.
It is the Congress president and the party’s Parliamentary Party chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, who will remain in charge for the foreseeable future. Over the last 30 days, hundreds of party colleagues and workers who have met her or written to her have conveyed the message that they want her to stay in charge.
The first signal came when Mr. Gandhi did not become the party leader in the Lok Sabha. Instead, Congress veteran and former Union Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge, who gave an unexpectedly well-received speech during the debate on the President’s address to the two Houses, was given the job, with former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as his deputy.
In the Rajya Sabha, former Union Ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma were named as leader and deputy leader of the party.
The decisions suggested that the party had made up its mind to give leadership in the two Houses to tried and tested leaders as this was not the time for any experiment with younger MPs.
A former Union Minister said, “Appointing senior people will make it easier to maintain discipline.”
The second signal came when some senior leaders who had lost the recent elections received a letter from Ms. Gandhi. “This path is long and requires relentless struggle. But I am confident. You can overcome the hostile conditions with your determination and hard work. I am always there with you in this struggle. I shall be in regular contact with all of you,” she wrote.
For those who received this letter, Ms. Gandhi’s words of empathy acted as a balm, in sharp contrast to her son’s brusque manner with them. In the days immediately following the election results, many leaders — some publicly, like former MoS Milind Deora, and others privately — hit out at the advisers who surrounded Mr. Gandhi.
If at the Congress Working Committee meeting following the results, Ms. Gandhi’s speech — prefaced by an offer to resign — was introspective, at the first CPP meeting that followed, she asked party leaders not to indulge in “public acrimony” over the party’s worst-ever Lok Sabha performance and, instead, be conscientious Parliamentarians.
But it was on June 13, on her thanksgiving trip to Rae Bareli that Ms. Gandhi sent out a clear message that she was there still to lead the party from the front. “We will have to win over the confidence of the people in the areas where the party has lost and I will lead from the front..,” she said.
For Ms. Gandhi, who became Congress president in 1998 and almost singlehandedly brought the party to power at the head of a UPA coalition in 2004, the task of repeating that success will be a huge challenge. But in the last few days, she has demonstrated that she is willing to make a fresh start.