Sonia Gandhi Gets Back In Action, Drives Home Point That She Is “Full-time”, “Visible” Congress Chief

Ahead of the 2024 national elections, the need for Sonia’s presence is being felt all the more to enable the grand old party to play the anchor role it desires.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is back in action to drive home the message that she is in the driving seat.

Dispelling the notion that she had withdrawn from day-to-day supervision, Sonia has held two national level party meetings over the past two weeks, reminding the leaders of the organization’s ideological moorings and explaining to them the future roadmap.

The reference here is to the October 16 meeting of the Congress Working Committee, which was followed by a conclave of all state in-charges and state unit heads on October 26 at the party’s national headquarters 24, Akbar Road in New Delhi.

That address, adjacent to her official residence at 10 Janpath, had been the center of gravity of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance from 2004-2014 but has been facing political attacks since the BJP came to power.

In between, her son Rahul assumed the party’s leadership from Dec 2017- May 2019, but a quick turn of events saw Sonia return as the party’s interim chief amid widespread allegations that the Congress was adrift.

As concerns over Sonia’s health persisted and her children Rahul and Priyanka started taking key decisions, the emergence of a new high command was being talked about in the party circles.

Often, the new high command faced criticism of not being in full control, adding fuel to the charge that a slide in Congress’ fortunes was reducing the much-needed space of a strong opposition.

Sonia sensed the gravity of the situation and decided to step in. If she was seen clearly setting the agenda during the October 16 and October 26 party gatherings, the way she reached out to calm down an agitated ally RJD founder Lalu Prasad, showed her political maturity.

Lalu Prasad had uttered some unpleasant words for the Congress and the party’s Bihar unit chief Bhakta Charan Das over two keenly contested by-polls in Tarapur and Kushehwarsthan. The comments were in bad taste and strained the relations between the two parties who have worked together for over a decade.

Sonia’s phone call had the desired effect. Lalu Prasad reiterated that the Congress should take the lead in uniting the opposition parties as it was the largest player among the anti-BJP block as he brushed off the recent tiff.

Lalu Prasad, a former UPA minister, has been one of the most trusted allies of the Congress since 2004 and needed to be kept in good humour, Sonia’s quick response showed.

UPA days

The sewing up of a pre-poll alliance with like-minded parties, which took shape as UPA after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was primarily a result of Sonia Gandhi’s reach out to the regional leaders.

The two successive UPA governments, headed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh from 2004-2014, were the result of Sonia’s consensus-based approach in the era of coalition politics that prevailed in the country then.

When the Congress sat in the opposition benches after the 2014 national polls, Sonia applied the same yardsticks on how her party dealt with its allies.

In fact, with Sonia at the helm, the opposition block was often seen putting the ruling BJP on the mat in Parliament, primarily because the regional leaders felt comfortable working with her.

Ahead of the 2024 national elections, the need for Sonia’s presence is being felt all the more to enable the grand old party to play the anchor role it desires.

Ideology factor

Over the past years, Sonia Gandhi has been stressing the party’s ideological fight with the BJP and never fails to remind the workers about the same.

Accusing the ruling party of indulging in a misinformation campaign, the Congress chief recently directed the state heads to prepare the foot soldiers to take on their rivals while embracing the Congress’ values.

She also expressed concern over the huge gaps in the dissemination of information about policies at the state and district level despite articulation at the central level. Such gaps led to confusion among the state leaders and presented a challenge in bringing cohesion among the ground-level teams, Sonia stressed.

While talking about ideological positioning, Sonia Gandhi also flagged a concern that the Congress was sometimes seen at variance with the issues affecting the common man and this was proving to be a hindrance in connecting with the people.

The grand old party, she stressed, must redouble its fight for the rights of the poor, deprived, women, youth, farmers and small-businessmen, in a reflection of its former self.

All this while, the opposition party must not let go of its inclusive character, the party chief pointed out.

The dos and don’ts from Sonia came as a result of brainstorming over the shortcomings in the party’s functioning and the challenges it faces at present.

Mass movement

Apart from ideology, Sonia also asked the leaders to launch mass movements to re-enact the grand old party’s struggles during the Independence movement. The party often prides itself as a follower of the values generated during the country’s freedom struggle.

The Congress, she assured, can regain lost ground by reliving its glorious past but cautioned that any such attempt must be based on unity and discipline among the rank and file.

The remarks have come amid reports of infighting that has been identified as one of the major problems plaguing the grand old party.

The party, which did not do well in the previous round of assembly polls in April, is preparing for the coming contests in five states early 2022 and does not want infighting to be a limiting factor.

Though the party has been carrying out nationwide protests over various public issues in the past, it is planning to launch a massive membership drive from November 1 to prepare for the internal elections next year, with the aim of making a difference on the ground.

However, such targets have been set in the past as well and the outcome of the proposed reach out will be known only in the months to come.

Till then, the grand old party has to drop its obsolete systems and work hard to emerge in a new avatar.

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