These are interesting and challenging times in the Congress. A breakthrough of sorts is in the offing after a month of inactivity, anxiety, chaos and crisis.
The Congress is set to get a new leader though unanimity over Rahul Gandhi's successor is nowhere in sight. This seemingly paradoxical situation is not unusual for Congress insiders who attach significance to the party's willingness to accept Gandhi’s wishes. Next stage of course will be about naming a successor where a war of attrition is underway between the old guard and young guns.
There are three trends that emerge as of now. Rahul Gandhi is set to get a leadership role in the mould of an ideologue or a supreme leader without holding an office.
A countrywide padyatra is in the offing for the young Gandhi. He is likely to hit the road for weeks and months, away from routine party work and meetings. Whether he would emerge in the mould of a Jai Prakash Narayan, VP Singh or Chandrashekhar, or achieve nothing is something that only future would tell.
The second part is to settle the leadership impasse by finding an ad hoc party president. Interestingly, all eyes are on Rajasthan that reportedly holds the key to finding Gandhi’s successor. The choice between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot is neither easy nor logical. If this plan is executed, the party will face anything between a mutiny or a full-fledged revolt or a split in the near future. Party veterans insist that this issue has not been cleared by either Priyanka Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi so far.
In Gandhi’s scheme of things, a Kamraj-like plan of mass resignations following his own resignation on May 25 would have strengthened the Congress organisation, but none of the five Congress chief ministers showed any inclination to offer theirs. Among other things, it once again highlighted inadequacies in Gandhi’s leadership style and the absence of a maverick party manager like RK Dhawan.
For some, Rahul Gandhi’s presidency was a reminder of emperor Shah Alam II whose writ reportedly ran between Delhi and Palam. It was said in Persian then ‘Sultanate-e-Shah Alam, az Delhi ta Palam’.
A disgruntled Congress leader was even heard saying Gandhi’s writ did not run in any part of Haryana, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh that share borders with Delhi, or even in the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.
There is lot of in-house debate going on on whether Gandhi’s successor should be a young, energetic face or someone from the old guard with decades of experience.
The third and final part of Congress road ahead has near consensus. It is a hush-hush plan and an open secret. In the Congress scheme of things, Priyanka Gandhi will be projected as a prime ministerial face in 2024. However, it will all depend how three people – Rahul Gandhi, his successor and Priyanka, all doing different things and playing different roles -- can work together and keep the Congress motivated and in the hunt for power.
(Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal)