Sayonara Sonia: Up & Down of Congress

Sonia Gandhi

Rama Krishna Sangem

Sonia Gandhi officially announced her retirement from active politics of Congress party. Her speech at AICC plenary at Nava Raipur, Chhattisgarh on February 25, Saturday to this effect brought curtains on a quarter century of period in the history of 137 year Grand Old Party. It is not clear whether she will contest next Lok Sabha elections in 2024. But, that is secondary. In a sense,  she at the age of 76 years signed off from leadership slot.

Sayanora, a word entered English in 1800s from Japanese origins, means to say Goodbye to someone, through not exactly a goodbye.  but its strict meaning is “If it is that way“.  So, I used Sayonara here to say that even if Sonia Gandhi plays an active role in the party it will be different now on – as a a passive or towering personality. Like LK Advani or Vajpayee (before he died) in BJP?

Sonia who took over as Congress president from Sitaram Kesri on March 14, 1998, served in the post till December 16, 2017 – about 20 years.  That is a long period, for someone who never held the post of  Prime Minister, like Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi, her family legends. Sonia ran the party with full grip and brought it to power at the Centre from 2004 to 2014, a full decade of two terms.

Congress lost 2014 polls. She was succeeded by her son Rahul Gandhi in 2017. But, he too couldn’t lead the party to power in 2019 elections.  These back- to- back defeats have pained her like anything. The Congress leaders who showered praise on her for successive wins before are apparently not happy with her or Rahul’s dwindling electoral appeal. Thus born the G-23 leaders (most of them since left the party).

That is the nature of Congress leaders. They worship a leader as long as she or he can keep them in power. Once the leader fails to win an election, they rear their heads and demand internal democracy – this happened in the case of Indira Gandhi and now Sonia. Remember Ghulam Nabi Azad who enjoyed power for decades in Congress suddenly raised a banner of revolt and quit the party.

Kharge, Stigma remover

Both the internal pressure from G-23 and outside attacks from BJP, saying that Congress has become a Parivarwadi (family oriented) party made Sonia and Rahul to opt for someone – in Mallikarjuna Kharge – as the new president of Congress. Kharge is a staunch loyalist of Gandhis. We must remember that he is only a remover of stigma of Parivarwadi party on Congress.

Even if Congress get a chance to lead a government at the Centre next year or gets the PM post, Rahul Gandhi will be the choice. Of course, unless Congress crosses 100 MPs on its own and gets 150 plus as UPA partner, the PM post  may not come to it, even in case Modi led BJP fails to get simple majority. There are many contenders for the top post from within UPA – like Sharad Pawar and outside like BRS supremo KCR.

Rahul Era Begins

Going by the way AICC plenary was held at Raipur, it appears Rahul Gandhi’s era in the party has begun, in all aspects. The front page ads placed by AICC on February 26, Sunday tell us this. “137 Year Journey of Ideas Continues” is the slogan of the advertisement. Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, BR Ambedkar, Netaji, Sarojini Naidu, Sahstri, Indira, Rajiv and PV are at the top.

Manmohan Singh, Sonia, Kharge and Rahul are seen below the page. Kharge is bigger than the other three.  If Hand symbol with “Haath Se Haath Jodo” slogan is on the left, Congress flag in the right. This shows the priorities of the party and the things to come in the days ahead. Rahul Gandhi will be projected above any of those in the party, or for that matter, anyone in UPA. His Bharat Jodo Yatra will be the electoral mantra.

That is the only way, Rahul can take on PM Modi, who is still popular in the north and central India. BJP is sure of coming to power for a third term, and it is in power in UP. A lot  depends on how the election results of some states including Chhattisgarh, Rajaasthan, MP, Telangana and Karnataka. If Congress wins at least two – including Karnataka, Sonia may contest again from Rae Barelli, which she was winning since October, 1999.

Otherwise, she may prefer to skip the LS polls.


Rama Krishna Sangem

Ramakrishna chief editor of excel India online magazine and website

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