History does repeat itself, and it is an uncertain present and future that the Grand Old Party faces as it may head towards a split. Especially so, if its leadership crisis is not solved quickly. Time is running out for it to revive itself, if at all.
Stinging defeats in the recently concluded assembly elections for the Gandhi siblings, Rahul and Priyanka, have weakened the control of the Gandhi family over the party organisation.
The elimination of Congress in West Bengal and its failure to win in Kerala and Assam add to the woes of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Congress history tells us the valiant fight of Mrs Indira Gandhi, nicknamed as "Gungi Gudiya", put up against powerful syndicate in the late 60s. She broke away and formed her own party and claimed to be the real Congress in 1969 and continued to dominate till 2014, with few breaks in between. The infamous emergency continues to haunt the Congress. Sonia Gandhi took over the party reluctantly and revived it almost from scratch and enabled it to rule for 10 years till 2014.
Given this, Rahul Gandhi faces a bigger challenge to rejuvenate the party, at its lowest ebb and increasing challenge from G23 – party leaders. But one does wonder if largely rootless leaders from this grouping would dare to force a split.
If it does, the BJP will celebrate it, and media would go to town over one more step closer to Congress mukt India.
Indications are Rahul is poised to take over the party next month. He is already functioning as the de-facto President owing to his mother's illness. His proactiveness in highlighting the failures of Modi government, statements on Chinese incursions, Rafel deal disclosures in French websites have endeared him to the Congress rank and file.
Rahul Gandhi was the only leader who consistently warned the Modi government about Covid 19 and the danger it posed to the nation and how public health and economy could be ravaged. But it is the Congress defeats in Assam and Kerala that have a bearing on his leadership prospects in the faction ridden party.
Rahul Gandhi's stand on leadership issue that if workers wanted he was ready to play any role, indicates his willingness to take on the mantle of leadership again. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who led Mamata Bannerjee and MK Stalin to stupendous victories, doubted the prospects of a coalition of different political parties. But according to him there was a dire need of hegemony of a pan India party weaving other parties around it. The strategist, Prashant Kishore, who has recently emerged as victorious after guiding Mamta Banerjee to unprecedented victory in West Bengal polls, seems to have clarity about the future projection of united front of opposition when he says there is a dire need of one party having Pan India appeal (obviously hinting at Congress) weaving other parties around it to challenge strong and popular leader Modi, and his election winning machinery and RSS. Prashant Kishor does not see much success in any of the regional leaders trying to unite opposition parties, given the inflated egos and differences.
But Congress needs to get its act together and frame a strategy to handle states. At the same time the Rahul-Priyanka duo must take on Modi government aggressively, in all polls to be held next year. Rebuilding party from scratch is not new to Congress, it has done several times, when challenge to Gandhi family comes from within ranks.
When Sonia Gandhi took over the party in 1998 not many gave her a chance. But she later led the UPA to victory in 2004 and the government ran for two successive terms under Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh till Modi captured national imagination and power in Delhi.
Rahul Gandhi is the only leader in Congress who can take on the mighty Modi, especially so after big Congress leaders have gone into silent mode.
Rahul Gandhi's attack on the vaccine policy of prime minister has earned the applause from the party cadres, including G23 leaders, who are making noises on inner party democracy. Analysts say that split in the party is being talked about by some disgruntled leaders but it may not get support from party workers.
Secondly, an option is also open to bring forward a non-Gandhi president like Rajasthan chief minister, Asjok Gehlot who enjoys blessings and patronage of the Gandhis besides hailing from OBC. But in view of strong BJP leadership and a party having vast resources and well-oiled machinery of Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS), a young and energetic leader like Rahul Gandhi may fit in the shoes of Sonia Gandhi and the change may take place in June.
(K.S.Tomar is a senior journalist and a political analyst )