Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s strategy session with her party’s 40 Rajya Sabha MPs turned into another “Bring back Rahul Gandhi” session, reflecting its longstanding faith in the Nehru-Gandhi leadership. The call to have Mr Gandhi back at the top post came as a section of party veterans including Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor questioned the leadership as the party faces its worst ever decline.
In the recent months, it has lost one of the three heartland states it won in 2018, and is battling a crisis in another as Mr Gandhi’s closest aide Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP and one of the most promising young leaders, Sachin Pilot, rebelled.
Most leaders who attended today’s session — including KC Venugopal, Rajeev Satav, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, G C Chandrashekher — reiterated that the party needs rebuilding and it can be best achieved by the 49-year-old at the helm.
Mrs Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel asked for a mixture of youngsters as well as seniors, in the leadership roles — a formula that backfired in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The differences between the old guard and the new have kept the party divided since Rahul Gandhi was made the party general secretary in 2007.
In March, Jyotiraditya Scindia walked over to the BJP with 22 aides, bringing down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is battling to save his government as Sachin Pilot and 18 MLAs loyal to him have broken ranks with the party. Both leaders complained of being mistreated and sidelined by their bosses.
The rift showed up it its sharpest when Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, the former boss of Sachin Pilot, spoke up against young leaders with “handsome faces” who spoke “good English”.
Today, several MPs including Dijivijaya Singh said in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the “organization” has been hijacked by leaders like Mr Scindia and Mr Pilot and it has to be rebuilt from scratch. “These youngsters have been given too much too soon and haven’t had the run of the mill,” said sources close to Mr Singh.
Mr Gandhi, who has been largely silent about the troubles in the party, did not attend the session. Sonia Gandhi gave a hearing to the demands, but did not comment.
Before quitting the party’s top job in July last year following its decimation in the Lok Sabha polls, Mr Gandhi made it clear that neither he nor any member of his family would take charge of the party. In several internal meetings, he said his mother Sonia Gandhi or sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra should not be roped into the top job.
But subsequently, Sonia Gandhi, who had taken a back-seat for the last several years in view of her health, was persuaded to take up the reins as the party’s interim president.