India's main opposition party "Congress" faces leadership crisis

Last Modified Wednesday, 26 August 2020 (10:48 IST)
The Congress party has managed to stave off internal division, keeping as interim president of India's main opposition party. But political analysts warn the party is "no match" for PM Modi's leadership.
The on Monday rejected a request from its leader, Sonia Gandhi, that she be allowed to resign.
In her opening remarks at the seven-hour online meeting, Gandhi offered to quit her post and asked the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's top decision-making body, to begin the process of "transition" to relieve her from her duties.
 
The Italian-born widow of former PM Rajiv Gandhi had offered to step down as interim leader after 23 senior Congress figures wrote a letter calling for sweeping reforms and better leadership of the party.
 
The signatories to the letter reportedly called on the Gandhi family to either play a more pro-active role or step down.
 
"I don't hold any ill will or other thoughts of any other nature against any colleague. I have risen above issues to fight for the cause of the people and the forces that are failing this country," said Gandhi. "The need of the hour is to tackle issues facing the country. Organizational issues, the process of constitution or reconstitution is a continuous process," she added.
 
The CWC decided that Gandhi will continue in her role until a new chief will be decided at its All Congress Committee meeting in six months' time.
 
It was not immediately clear whether an election would take place, but Congress politicians hope to persuade her son Rahul Gandhi to assume the post, even though he has appeared unenthusiastic about returning as party chief.
 
Leadership downfall
 
The Congress is in power in just six of India's 28 states, and in four of those, it governs as a member of a coalition.
 
Sonia Gandhi took over the de facto leadership of the party last year from Rahul, who stepped down following the 2019 election loss. There has been no full-time president since then to revamp the party.
 
"There is no logic in this kind of behavior by the Congress. How long can one drag it out when there is no leadership to match up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's? The party has to look within and introspect," political scientist Sudha Pai told DW. "The party has been rudderless. Sonia was brought in as interim president but that did not work as she has been keeping unwell," she added.
 
Rasheed Kidwai, a political analyst and author of "Sonia – A Biography," is also left feeling skeptical.
 
"This [letter] is a call for putting in place better systems in the party. Many of the leaders who wrote the letter are basically saying it was about time that someone belled the cat," Kidwai told DW.
 
For others, Monday's decision represented only a reaffirmation of the party's loyalty to the Gandhi family.
 
"The debate finally turned into: Are you with the Gandhis or are you against them? The more things change, the more they stay the same," a top Congress leader, who requested to remain anonymous, told DW.
 
The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has dominated the Congress party for seven decades. Rahul Gandhi's father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India.
 
'The mirror has cracked'
 
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds a comfortable majority in the national parliament.
 
The BJP refrained from releasing official comments on the CWC meeting. However, its national vice-president, Uma Bharti, told media: "The Gandhi-Nehru family's existence is in crisis and their political dominance is over. Congress is finished… so who stays in what position hardly matters now."
 
Tom Vadakkan, another BJP leader, told media that while he does not want to comment about the internal affairs of the Congress party, "as a former congressperson, I can say that the mirror has cracked, and it is all out in the public domain."