Amid turmoil and uncertainty, the Congress has announced the schedule for the election of a new president. Senior leaders are revolting, the party’s incumbent president Sonia Gandhi is battling ill health, and her son Rahul Gandhi is unwilling to take on the mantle. The party will be electing a president on October 17, as per the schedule endorsed by the Congress Working Committee. The Congress is also planning a march — nearly 3,500 kilometres across 12 States and two Union Territories over 150 days, billed as the Bharat Jodo Yatra, or Unite India march — to be led by Mr. Gandhi whose future role in the party remains vague. The party has also called a rally in Delhi on September 4 against price rise. To be fair, the Gandhi family finds itself in a spot — it will be ridiculed if one of them ends up as president, and if none of them is at the helm, new dynamics with unpredictable consequences could be triggered in the party. If the Gandhis are seen as backing a particular horse in the race, that will cast a shadow over the entire election process. All told, the best course for the party and the family is to facilitate an election process that is as fair as possible, and use it as an opportunity to open an honest conversation on revamping the party. The party is in decline, and the old strategy of waiting out the periods out of power will not work this time. It is at a crossroads or a dead end, depending on what the Congress decides to do now.
Some pointers to what ails the Congress can be found in the resignation letter written by Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was a key figure in the party for decades. The lack of grace and gratitude stands out in the letter, but Mr. Azad’s career itself is proof of the validity of the charges that he makes against the party. With little popularity and no accountability, he remained a key decision maker in the party, became Union Minister for several terms, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir once, and a member of Rajya Sabha for five terms, totalling 30 years. Only 11 people have had such a long innings in the Rajya Sabha. When he says that the party is being run by a coterie, he surely knows what he is talking about. In fact, rootless managers who masqueraded as leaders ensured that mass leaders were humiliated and driven out of the party. The list of such people who could not remain in the Congress is long — from Mamata Banerjee to Sharad Pawar to Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. The capture of the Congress party by a self-serving cabal had begun long before Mr. Gandhi came on the scene. No other party allows people who are incapable of mobilising the masses and winning elections to flourish like the Congress does. The organisational election must stir ordinary party workers and grassroot leaders to claim the party for themselves, and show power brokers their place.