After a three-hour Congress Working Committee meeting that saw conflicting arguments over holding organisational elections immediately, Rahul Gandhi, while saying that he respected the sentiments of those for or against, came up with a terse remark: ‘Everyone should now move on.’ That seems to be a pragmatic template, but dissent can be infectious, especially when the habit of finding yourself continuously on the losing side starts manifesting itself as an affliction. There is also the notion that the endless run of electoral defeats hardly qualifies as a predicament for the Gandhis — for, they are never out of power; if not the government; there’s always the party.
The problem, the dissenters believe, lies in the way the party is being managed; an interim arrangement denotes a weakness of intent and a ‘full-time’ leader could mean fresh impetus. The top decision-making body did announce the election of a new president, but only in June. Also included was a lecture on priorities — organisational matters can wait, getting the party organised for Assembly elections in crucial states cannot. After Rahul stepped down over yet another drubbing in 2019, it again fell upon his mother to fill the vacuum, so embedded is the Gandhi imprint. When the centre of power remains the same, and is likely to be so even in the unforeseeable event of a non-Gandhi stand-in, there is little to the logic that early internal polls will bring the change the party is looking for.
As she faced rare opposition from within, Sonia Gandhi was asked to continue as interim chief till February, with a resolve to conduct internal polls. That process has been postponed. The need for a decisive stamp on leadership cannot be overstated. She may have met some of her once-trusted lieutenants, but a continuum of protesting voices cannot and should not be ignored. Ironing out differences, collective leadership and delegation of authority have to be priorities too. The lesson the Congress needs to draw comes from the BJP, persistent and unflinching during two UPA terms when it believed it should have won. And then it did, and how.