Family matters: On the Congress and the Gandhis

The Congress is looking at a new leadership, but the Gandhis must be neither aloof nor meddling 

Updated - August 25, 2022 11:47 am IST

Published - August 25, 2022 12:20 am IST

The Congress is all set to be led by someone who is not from the Nehru-Gandhi family, with Rahul Gandhi making it clear that he is in no mood to return as party president. The party will finalise the schedule for organisational elections at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Sunday. The family itself is leading the search for the replacement. Mr. Gandhi had resigned as president following the drubbing of the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. He had led the campaign, and he took responsibility for the failure; but also felt let down by party seniors who he thought did not fight the election with their mind and soul in it. By turning down the pleas of his ardent followers to return to the helm, he has challenged Congress leaders to adopt a new culture, moving away from the familiar habit of relying on the family as the lifeblood and a façade simultaneously. For the Congress party, this challenge is no less than the external challenge of extinction that it faces from the Bharatiya Janata Party. His discomfort with formal power might make him seem a reluctant politician, but he has expressed a desire to be in public life as a matter of his democratic duty.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has emerged as the front runner for the post, for various reasons. Mr. Gehlot is an astute politician, a manager of conflicting interests, and deeply embedded in the Congress structure from the grassroots to the pinnacle. His charm, accessibility, clean image, and expertise in heartland politics make him a good fit. He wears his loyalty to the Gandhi family on his sleeve but remains acceptable to multiple groups within Congress. If at all there is a contest for the post of party president, that will only enhance the legitimacy of the winner. However, with the Gandhi siblings in active politics, the authority that Mr. Gehlot or anyone else can exercise within the party as president will remain a complicated question. If Mr. Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra continue to remain active decision-makers, as they have been in the recent past, the situation could turn out to be chaotic. Mr. Gandhi has done the honourable thing by refusing to buckle under pressure and return as president. But he, his sister, and their mother Mrs. Gandhi should all have very clearly defined contours of involvement in the functioning of the party. A non-Gandhi at the helm can be a good attempt at rebooting the Congress, but that by itself is no guarantee of its revival. The new president should have the authority, legitimacy, and vision to infuse new energy into the party. Ironically, the burden of ensuring that is upon none other than the Gandhi family, who will have to be supportive without being seen as interfering.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here

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