Sonia Gandhi, the interim president of the Congress party, has taken over the reins of the party amid developments that are strikingly similar to the scenario post the 2014 national elections when the party suffered its worst defeat.
This time it follows the party’s second worst loss, although the challenges for her are similar: a series of state elections are due in the next one year, desertions of leaders have peaked in the past two months and the daunting task of reviving a demoralized party remains.
After more than two months of uncertainty, the party’s apex decision making body—Congress Working Committee (CWC)— on Saturday named Sonia Gandhi as its interim president, indicating its inability to agree on a non-Gandhi candidate. With this, Congress has come full circle in terms of its top leadership as Rahul Gandhi had taken over from Sonia Gandhi nearly 18 months earlier.
According to senior party leaders, her immediate challenges will be to take on a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the poll-bound states of Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, and forming alliances with other parties. Elections to the newly formed Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir are also pending and Delhi too is scheduled to go to polls early next year.
“We have already lost a lot of time when a review of what went wrong in the national elections and a campaign plan for upcoming state polls should have been done. Her immediate challenges will be taking on the BJP in the state polls, planning a robust electoral campaign and ensuring a fair ticket distribution at the party level," a senior leader of the CWC, said requesting anonymity.
With Sonia Gandhi at the helm, the Congress party is hopeful that she would renew her outreach to other Opposition leaders, not just for better coordination on national issues but also to repair ties with old allies such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and striking new ones, the leader said.
A Rajya Sabha member of the Congress said that a “long stretched leadership crisis" has led to desertion by many party leaders and Sonia Gandhi will face the challenge of stemming such exits, particularly those which directly benefit the BJP. In the last fortnight, party’s chief whip in Rajya Sabha Bhubaneshwar Kalita, former lawmakers Sanjay Sinh and Santuise Kujur (on Sunday) quit Congress to join the BJP.
“Leaders will quit because they see no future in the party. Imagine our younger colleagues who have 20 or 30 years of political career left in them, why would they want to be in a party without a dominant position or a hope of a bright future. Sonia Gandhi’s challenge is really about how to revive the party. Rahul Gandhi had started that job but it remained unfulfilled and now all hopes are pinned on his mother," the leader cited above said.
Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post of party president on 25 May. Top leaders of the party tried to convince him to change his decision but he refused.