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Timely Decision

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Former Congress President Sonia Gandhi has hinted at retirement. It seems the lesson has been learned from the BJP that ‘overage’ politicians are better out of active politics and in ‘Marg Darshak Mandal’ mode. The Congress will continue to ‘take inspiration’ from her and relieve her from having to intervene in crisis after crisis. Hopefully, the Party President, Mallikarjun Kharge, will now have the necessary authority to take the party forward, although the transition will be difficult in the light of past habit.

Sonia Gandhi has obviously been encouraged to take the decision by the manner in which Rahul Gandhi has been ‘inspiring’ the party cadre through initiatives like the Bharat Jodo Yatra and running commentary on the state of affairs in the country following the Adani meltdown and other alleged failures of the government. He has attacked the ‘Pappu’ image by projecting the newly constructed ‘Tapasvi’ persona, courtesy ‘Chanakya’ Jairam Ramesh. This has provided substance to the party’s demand that he be made the ‘PM face’ for the coming Lok Sabha elections. How far this works out will depend on the results of the assembly elections set to take place in 2023. Any gain in Congress votes will be attributed to him.

The party has also declared its willingness to take the ‘extra step’ to ensure opposition unity against the Modi led BJP. The realisation is universal that without this unity, the chances of victory are unlikely. Hence, a ‘third front’ is to be discouraged, which would require satraps of regional parties to shelve their personal ambitions. This may be asking for too much.

If a straight fight is needed in India’s states against the BJP, the Congress would have to concede too many seats. The extra step would be one too many for taking on the leadership of the opposition coalition. In that context, a post-poll alliance would be more suitable but it would require less arithmetic and more anti-incumbency against Prime Minister Modi. Right now, he seems invincible but setbacks in the assembly elections could damage that image, leading swing voters to re-examine their choices. Similarly, the regional leaders with prime ministerial ambitions – Nitish Kumar being the latest – will also need to perform well. The counter-narrative against the Hindutva card has already begun with solidarity being sought to be built around the demand for a caste census. Help is also being provided by foreign friends. It is going to be an ugly fight and Sonia Gandhi would do well to view it from the sidelines, for once, rather than get caught in the melee to come. She wouldn’t have made much of difference, anyway.