Sonia Gandhi has her task cut out. As the Congress chief, she has to build a grassroots base, boost the morale of its workers, fight the Assembly elections and most importantly, bring the old and the young camps together
Sonia Gandhi is back again as the Congress’ chief after almost a break of two years. She had taken a back seat during this period, leaving the field entirely to her son Rahul Gandhi in 2017. But now, she will be at the helm of affairs until the party holds the next organisational elections.
After going through the motions of the consultation process, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) has ultimately brought back Sonia Gandhi. But it is not clear whether she will be able to restore the party back to its health. Sonia had made her political debut in 1998 when the grand old party was in bad shape and she was able to check erosion. She even brought the party to power twice (2004-2014). Now that she is reluctantly back as the chief, what would be her challenges in the coming days and months?
The first daunting challenge for Sonia will be to restructure a demoralised organisation. She commands respect, trust and loyalty from party leaders and workers across the generational divide. After the Congress’ humiliating defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, where it won just 52 seats, as also the leadership crisis it faced for the past 75 days after Rahul Gandhi stepped down as party president, the morale of party workers is down. Many disgruntled partymen have left the grand old party. She needs to give a pep-talk to the workers, who may have confidence in her, and boost their morale.
Second and more importantly, Assembly elections are due in the States of Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana in the next two months and the Congress is still not ready to face them. On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to win the three States. Sonia has to put the right people for the right kind of job and strengthen the party organisationally. There is factionalism and erosion of workers and leaders. She has to appoint strong general secretaries who can oversee election preparedness. Even if the party can win just one State, it will go a long way in boosting the morale of the cadres.
Third, Sonia has to keep her flock together. The old guard has had its way, she must make sure that the disappointed younger lot do not look for greener pastures. Already, there are rumours that some of the younger leaders are in talks with the BJP. She should be able to persuade them to remain in the party and give them importance.
Fourth, it is important to check the erosion. Sonia was able to do so in 1998 when she took over from Sitaram Kesri. She did so at a time when the party was in the Opposition and many senior leaders were leaving the party. The scenario is the same now. MPs like Sanjay Singh and Bhubaneswar Kalita have joined the BJP. More are likely to go. In most States, including Maharashtra, Goa and Telangana, several Congressmen are leaving the sinking ship. The question is whether she will be able to stop them.
Fifth, she should restore the position of the Congress as a challenger to the BJP. For this, the need is to repackage the party. She was successful in doing so earlier by holding conclaves in Pachmarhi and Shimla with brainstorming sessions involving party leaders. The same zeal is needed now, especially after the party’s humiliating defeat in 2019 polls. The party is yet to introspect and come up with corrections.
Sixth, she must define the roles for her children, otherwise there will be three power centres. Rahul Gandhi has said that he will continue to work for the party. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is already the general secretary from Uttar Pradesh but she is not just another general secretary because of her access to her mother.
Seventh, she must re-work her coalition strategy and States where the Congress is not strong, she must look at alliances with smaller and regional parties. The party must realise that this is the only way it can improve its chances.
Last but not the least, it is imperative to concentrate on reorganising the party and re-connect with the voters. The Congress scored zero in 17 States in the 2019 polls. In the past five years, the BJP has considerably expanded its base and won even those States where it never won in the past and has now emerged as the principal pole of national politics, replacing the Congress.
The Congress has to come up with a new plan to revive the party in the northern and eastern States. There are five years to do this until the 2024 polls although the intervening Assembly polls are also important. The party should work with a missionary zeal to achieve this. For all these, Sonia Gandhi needs a good team. While the coterie might expect to grab all the power, she must have a mix of old and young Congress leaders in her core team. All these have to be taken up with utmost urgency as there is not enough time before the ensuing Assembly polls.
(The writer is a senior journalist)