The events that unfolded at the leadership level of Congress party, which has been showing signs of weakening each passing day, are unusual. With the release of the content of a letter written by 23 senior leaders of the party to interim president Sonia Gandhi demanding a thorough overhaul in the party, debates were reignited about a leadership change in India's grand old party. It was following this that Sonia expressed her willingness to step down from the post and called a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for follow up discussions. The CWC that met on Monday heard divergent views aired about the issue, with leaders like Manmohan Singh arguing for continuation of Sonia's leadership and others including Karnataka party head Siddaramaiah calling for the return of Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, when Rahul came forward to question the very pertinence of such a letter, that led to an internal row which was far from light. Rahul blurted out that those with disagreements about the leadership should raise the matter at party platforms and those who shirked that path by writing the letter were playing into the hands of the BJP. This response is reported to have prompted the signatories of the letter like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal to raise a threat of resignation, but they were eventually mellowed by Sonia which thus let the dust settle at least for the time being. The current turn of events is quite different from what happened regarding Sonia's leadership two decades ago, when senior leader Sharad Pawar and associates crated a rumpus within the party highlighting the alien birth of Sonia. That flare-up ended in the formation of a new party, the National Congress Party (NCP). In fact, the latest development is not a dissident move against Sonia or the Nehru family, but a step to be seen as a reflection of the frustration of the Congress workers.
Through the letter under debate, the leaders have demanded that the party should recapture its popularity through greater democratisation and well-charted efforts. The demands init range from party elections as laid down in its constitution including for the AICC, to full-time, active leadership in party headquarters to the co-operation with like-minded parties against the BJP. In other words, the letter represents a clear blue-print for restoring the party's lost glory as much as it laments the current weakness of the Congress party. As such, it should lead to creative debates within, not to quarrels. In a way, that is what has happened, except for the blemish that it got reduced to the sole issue leadership. Even otherwise, leadership change has always been a conundrum for the Congress. The experience so far is that such deliberations would initially hover around, and finally boil down to the Nehru family. Party workers, who had looked up to Rahul Gandhi with great hopes, resigned from presidency owning responsibility for the debacle in the 2019 general election. And he made it clear that he did not want to assume leadership again. His sister and AICC general secretary Priyanka also has ruled out taking up that role. From these, it can be gleaned that members of the Nehru family now do not feel comfortable, or lack the confidence to wear the leadership mantle. All the same, in current matrix of party's higher echelon, it is not easy to select another from outside the dynasty.
Even if this organisational crisis is resolved somehow, the revival of Congress will be possible only through a transformation to face the challenges of the times. The party that had won 45 per cent votes in the first general election of 1952, could win only 19 per cent in the latest poll. The main cause of this fall is that the party could not formulate an action plan as demanded by the new era. Neither does the Congress now have a clear vision about how to take on the extreme Hindutva line upheld by the sangh parivar under BJP. As a matter of fact, the Congress is still capable of mobilising the victims of the sangh parivar against it and to form alliances of anti-fascist and secular forces. Further, the party's roots cannot be said to be fully lost in all states, although it is not as strong as before.
In spite of the perception about Congress' political infirmities, a large segment of people still pin hopes on it. Unfortunately, the party leadership is not able to build on this trust. On the contrary, they are wont to indulging in a soft-Hindutva approach which is totally self-defeating. A look at the Congress stances on issues including the Ram temple construction, would convince this. In a way, the letter written by the leaders, who have thought differently now, is also a reflection of the protest against this approach of secular votaries and party rank and file, who had put faith in the party. It is incumbent on the leadership to take it in a constructive spirit, beyond mere technicalities, and be prepared for serious introspection and self-criticism. The present conversation will come to fruition only if followed up by a dedicated endeavor to recapture its lost credibility and popularity. And that will need an overhauling of the entire party machinery right from the grassroots, through a democratic process. Or else, these conclaves will only add to the depth of its fall.