In the late evening of August 11th, Sonia Gandhi was named Congress President for the second time. Apparently she asked a longtime congress leader who is not known to be close to her: "Are you ready for the upcoming battle? It's going to be a long distance." The question was an indicator of how she planned her second innings, one that she had to tackle after son Rahul Gandhi's resignation. Their first run lasted two decades and the Congress ruled in the center half of that time.
With the trustworthy Lieutenant Ahmed Patel by her side, Sonia has again taken on the task of rebuilding the party. It will be a Herculean effort – the party has been wiped out across much of India. Congress currently rules only five states in the country, and in two of them – Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – they survive with a slim majority. After two humiliating defeats in the parliamentary elections in a row, struggles and disagreements are brewing in almost all government units. Several influential politicians have left Congress since the May 23 results and others have fought publicly, even more so in the two electoral states of Maharashtra and Haryana.
The appearance of three different teams within the congress, which sometimes conflict with each other, also leads to speculation about the party's long-term survival. The first team consists of the executives who worked closely with Sonia during their first term. The second is the non-political background working in Rahul Gandhi's office. Other prominent leaders, those who are neither in camp nor out of favor with the Gandhis, make up the third. And this team is growing in numbers.
Since Sonia returned to power, her stamp and the influence of her old team have been evident in every party decision. For example, in Maharashtra, which will be elected on October 21, the relatively unremarkable Balasaheb Thorat has been appointed President of the State Congress – the same faction-led unit that nearly a dozen leaders have left since May, including ex-ministers Kripashankar Singh and Harshvardhan Patil and MLA Nitesh Rane. His selection was supported by both Rahul and Sonia, which ensured that top-class leaders such as the former Prime Ministers of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan, met with little resistance. But the central leadership was unscrupulous with Milind Deora, who openly called for a young, efficient leader as Congress President in the 90 days between Rahul's resignation and Sonia's return. Congress insiders claim that Deora, who resigned as president of the Mumbai Congress after the Lok Sabha election debacle, no longer plays a role in the party.
When it comes to believing the sources of the congress, the shouting for a younger party leader, first approached by Punjab Prime Minister Amarinder Singh, worried Sonia the most. While the initial strategy was to use an understated Gandhi family loyalist as party president – presumably to warm the seat until Rahul changes his mind and returns – the call for an election by leaders like Shashi Tharoor Sonia caused a rethink. "She never hesitated, she wanted the reins to remain in the hands of a Gandhi," said a member of the Congress Working Committee. "If elections had been held and no Gandhi had been contested, power could have been lost to someone who is young and possibly more efficient. And while such a congressional president's long-term chances are low if three Gandhis are active in politics they didn't do this. " I want to take the risk. She became increasingly suspicious of the ambitions of Tharoor, Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot. "
This opened the door for the Sonia loyalists. With their backs as party leaders, those who had obtained power from Rahul in the highest position also had to withdraw. Madhya Pradesh Congress chairman Jyotiraditya Scindia, the only voice of introspection and self-criticism at the May 25 CWC meeting, now faces an uncertain future. Scindia once seemed to be destined for the top post of President of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, currently occupied by Prime Minister Kamal Nath. But when his followers tried to stir up Nath and Digvijaya Singh, the other steadfast representative of the state, Scindia could not support them because he had little support from Delhi. The fact that he also lost the Lok Sabha poll didn't help his cause. Former President of the Mumbai Congress, Sanjay Nirupam (who enjoyed Rahul's confidence until another of his favorites, Deora, replaced him), has openly outraged the old guard for ignoring ticket distribution for the Maharashtra assembly election. "I agree that Scindia has some real grievances, but why is Nirupam targeting high-level leaders? He was removed from Rahul," asks an old guard leader.
There is speculation in Rajasthan that Prime Minister Ashok Gehlot may soon appoint additional deputy prime ministers. Gehlot's rival Sachin Pilot is currently the only one to hold the post. While some MPs argue that this could be an attempt to promote the influential castes in the state, many see it as an attempt to get the pilot the right size. The 42-year-old President of the Rajasthan Congress, who led the party to victory in 2018, lost to Gehlot in the race for the prime minister when the Gandhi family campaigned for the old loyalist. "Instead of trying to chair the CM, he should focus on saving his position as President of the Rajasthan Congress," said a high party leader.
While Scindia and Nirupam have still not lost confidence in the party, some others have referred to this as quitting. In the northeast, Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, another royal head of the Scindia family, has resigned as President of the Tripura Congress. Debbarma was annoyed by the "interference" of the then Secretary General Luizinho Faleiro, who asked him to change his position in the controversial National Citizens' Register (NRC). Debbarma, which represents the indigenous people of Tripura, has fought before the Supreme Court a case in which an NRC is required in their home country. "Congress has several leaders who are taking over from the BJP and working to destroy the party," he says. Faleiro was released on October 7, weeks after Debbarma's resignation. The influence of the old guard was evident when it was reinstated within 24 hours.
However, the biggest victim was former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar. Despite the strong opposition from ex-Prime Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Tanwar remained at the helm for more than five years because he had Rahul's backing. In September, Sonia loyalist Kumari replaced Selja Tanwar, while Hooda became chairman of the election administration committee. A month later, Tanwar resigned from the party, unhappy with the distribution of tickets to the general election. Without naming anyone, he said that some established people in Congress felt like gods, but acted like demons to destroy people.
Although they failed to say anything against Rahul and Sonia, the indifference of the Gandhi sprout to their plight has hurt the rebels the most. Rahul did little to "protect" them when they were targeted by the new regime. In fact, since he resigned on May 25, Rahul has not disturbed political decisions regarding his people and restricted his activities to visiting his Wayanad constituency and targeting Modi government on social media platforms. His sudden overseas trip, less than two weeks away from the elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, has also whispered his indifference to party affairs.
However, his apolitical appointments were excluded from any punitive measures. For example, Sonia approved the proposal to transform the party's data analysis department into "technology and data cell," and appointed Praveen Chakravarty to head the cell. The old guard had particularly attacked Chakravarty after the Lok Sabha election and claimed that he had misled Rahul with falsified data. The other loyalist who survives the purge is K.C. Venugopal, party's organization secretary (although some insiders claim that it is only the "official name" that makes him relevant, and that his role is now limited to posting statements about dates within the party).
Not all young managers have faced the main burden either. Family heritage of loyalty to the Gandhis remains a highly valued asset, and two young Turks from Assam-Gaurav Gogoi and Sushmita Dev- prove this. Two-time MP Gaurav is the son of former Assam minister Tarun Gogoi. Although the older Gogoi is not an old guard favorite, he has the enviable support of all three Gandhis. After Sonia took command, Gaurav was tasked with two other states – Sikkim and Manipur – in addition to his current mandate to treat West Bengal and Andaman & Nicobar. Sushmita is the daughter of the late EU Minister Santosh Mohan Dev, who was very close to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia. Although Sushmita lost in May, she continues to lead the Mahila Congress and has access to all three Gandhis. "There is no special agenda against the young leaders," said Congress President Rajya Sabha. "The problem is that some of them got too much from the party too soon. Count the number of young ministers in the UPA governments. That made them too ambitious."
Another senior chairman points to a recently released viral video of a conversation between three congressional leaders – Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and Hooda – to find out that the veterans don't control everything. In the video, shot on October 2 in the parliamentary complex, Patel complains that Pata, who was recommended by him, has not received any tickets. In this struggle between the two sides, several misaligned leaders have been marginalized. Two striking examples are Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari. The former Union ministers were ignored for any party's leadership position in the Lok Sabha. Tharoor complained that despite winning three consecutive Lok Sabha elections, he was not involved in any deliberations to find out the reasons for the party's recent election debacle. Another former union minister, Salman Khurshid, admitted there is a leadership vacuum in the party. "We didn't really meet to analyze why we lost. Our biggest problem is that our leader has left. It left a kind of vacuum," said Khurshid.
The vacuum is also a result of Congress' reluctance to maintain second-generation non-dynast leaders in the United States. The long-range battle that Sonia seems to be preparing for requires a coherent unit at all levels – from the CWC through the districts to the polling station. What adds to the confusion is the fact that for the first time in its history, three members of the Gandhi family are actively participating in party affairs at the same time. Although Priyanka Gandhi is in charge of Uttar Pradesh-related issues, many within the party are already considered heirs to Sonia's legacy. Many leaders are making desperate attempts to approach it, hoping to create a different power structure.
This has made Sonia's current work more complicated. Even though she supports Priyanka, the mother in her doesn't want Rahul to disappear as a failure. Unlike 1998, when she was only 52 years old, a sick Sonia not only needs to get her house in order quickly, but also build a slaughterable team to fight the Modi machine. "Modern elections are held based on what I call the 3M framework and machine," said Chakravarty. "In previous epochs, the Congress party won elections only with a message and a message. That is no longer enough. Now the machine has to be built to strengthen the message and message. Building the machine requires enormous resources. But first, a serious intention for." it is needed. "Congress has not yet given a clear intention.