July 25, 2023
NEW DELHI – The Opposition coalition, now named INDIA, saw a low-profile Congress despite the presence of the two Gandhis – Sonia and her son Rahul. It is important to note that Sonia Gandhi, who had kept away so far, appeared at the opposition meeting in Bangalore. Her presence was necessary to be a glue for the Opposition.
After all, she had been the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, which she built up in 2004. She ran the government from behind, keeping Dr Manmohan Songh as the Prime Minister till 2014. She has more clout with the coalition as a senior leader. There are two things Congress had decided. One is to keep a low profile in the Opposition meeting. The second is to concede that all partners are equal, climbing down from its high pedestal. But more importantly, even before the meeting, Congress President Mallikharjun Kharge had clarified that his party was not in the race to stake a claim for prime ministership this time. This was a calculated decision of the Party (read the Gandhi family), or Kharge would not have made that statement. It has created a positive atmosphere as most of the partners had been anti-Congress at one time or another.
They also resented the big-brother attitude of the Congress. The million-dollar question is why the Gandhis took a “we are equals” stance in the Bengaluru meeting. Before this, the coalition partners were anticipating that Rahul Gandhi would make a bid for the position of Prime Minister. Insiders say that it was a tactical step. With Rahul’s future unclear and what the Supreme Court could say about his disqualification being unknown, the Gandhi family is not keen to project anyone. So as a goodwill measure, the party said it would not seek primacy. Sonia had initially planned to retire from politics at 70 but could not do so due to political challenges.
Over the past two years, she has taken a less active role in politics due to her declining health. While she has minimized her participation in election rallies, she attended the Bengaluru meeting to serve as a unifying force for various partners. Also expecting regional leaders to work under Rahul may be more optimistic. Taking on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which won more than 300 seats in 2019 and is still growing – will be a formidable challenge even for a united opposition. In any case, there are too many hurdles to cross. This includes the coalition’s stability, the egos of the regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, and the tally of each player. Secondly, the Gandhi family is biding its time. Suppose the apex court verdict goes in Rahul’s favour in the disqualification case, it will be an optimistic scenario.
The Gandhi legal team hopes to nullify the ban by overturning the decision or reducing his sentence to under two years. The Gandhis need the full strength of the Opposition to help them counter the BJP. Thirdly, the Gandhi family has sometimes shown a reluctance to accept positions. This ‘renunciation’ went down well with the public. In 2004, Sonia declined the post of prime minister. It was the same with Rahul Gandhi. He said at an AICC meeting in Hyderabad that he was not ready to take on the job.
Rahul has the advantage of his pedigree. As the son of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and a fifth-generation Nehru-Gandhi dynasty member, Rahul has projected himself as a significant opponent. But taking on the BJP will be a formidable challenge. Due to differing political ideologies, many opposition parties are currently at loggerheads with each other in states such as West Bengal and Delhi. Some, like the Nationalist Congress Party, and Congress are battling internal defections and a lack of unity among senior state leaders.
However, a robust anti-BJP sentiment unites the Opposition, pushing them to look past their differences. They have declared that the one-point agenda of INDIA is first to get more seats, remove Modi, and then address other problems. Despite not holding any official position, Rahul is now a prominent Opposition coalition member along with his mother and party chief Kharge. If Sonia becomes the new coalition’s President, Rahul will still make the decisions on behalf of the party whether he contests or not. He could always campaign for the alliance if the Apex Court upholds the lower court’s decision. The Congress is the biggest party in the coalition. It has the responsibility to build the team and keep it going.
After the recent Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul’s image has improved. Though this low profile is new to the Party, it is political compulsions which make Congress accept this role. Also, the Congress has finally realized that it does not have the same clout that it once had.