CONGRESS … Leadership change in Congress likely by January; Sonia to meet senior leaders as also dissidents


NEW DELHI: The grand old party of India is at the cross-roads. A change of leadership of the party, run so far as a Nehru family enterprise, is expected in a matter of a couple of months. The new president for the party could be a prop of the family, an elected leader, or a leader nominated by the top brass in the party by collective consultations. The party is contemplating a change in its leadership also as it is steadily losing ground and has become a shadow of its former eminent self.

Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi will hold wide-ranging discussions with top party leaders, including a set of dissidents on Saturday and Sunday. This is the first time that she is directly meeting party leaders after the Covid outbreak in March last. She was holding virtual meets, on occasions in recent times, though. She has been avoiding travel within the country altogether and going abroad only for medical consultations.

There are indications that the party would elect a new president for the party in January. Reports are that ex-chief Rahul Gandhi has refused to take over the leadership. So far, Sonia Gandhi was not inclined to let go of the Nehru family’s control over the party, re-fashioned by Indira Gandhi as her Congress after a split in the party in 1969. The party split then following the sidelining of the old guard – or experienced leaders – by Indira Gandhi after she took charge as Prime Minister in 1966. Her fight with the old guard continued for a few years before the split formalized.

Indira Gandhi as PM refused to heed advices from the party. She projected herself as being progressive and the old guard as obscurantists. Her defiance forced the party then headed by veteran S Nigalingappa to expel her from the party. Indira Gandhi labeled her faction as the Congress Indira and claimed it was the real Congress. With power in her hand, she was able to turn the tide in her favour. She resorted to “progressive” actions like nationalization of the nation’s seven top private banks and ending of privy purse system – a system introduced in her father’s time as PM to give a monthly lump sum amount to families of princely states that had been incorporated into the Republic of India. She won popular support as a champion of the poor. She raised the Garibi Hatao (banish poverty) slogan in the 1970s and won a Lok Sabha poll. The Allahabad High Court later nullified her election win on technical grounds, and this led her to impose Emergency on the nation and continue ruling up until 1977 when fresh parliament polls were called.  

In the late 1960s, differences in the Congress had come to a head when Indira Gandhi wanted to elect trade unionist and INTUC leader VV Giri as president, instead of Sanjeeva Reddy whom the old guard proposed. This was following the demise of Dr Zakir Hussein as President of India midway through his term.


Indira Gandhi had taken over as Prime Minister after the demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. Shastri was PM from 1964 when first PM Jawaharlal Nehru died of heart attack. Shastri too died of heart attack while on a visit of Russia to sign an agreement to end the 1965 India-Pakistan War. He died at night after the signing ceremony on January 10. His family suspected that there was foul play in his sudden death, and the shadow of suspicion reached up to the Nehru family’s close ties with Russia.


The leadership of the Congress party landed in the hands of Sonia Gandhi in 1998 and she held on to the post till 2017, when son Rahul Gandhi took charge. The Congress party had ended up in her hands after a short term of leadership of Sitaram Kesri – choice of then PM Narasimha Rao. Prior to this, Rao led the party and its government as PM since the demise of Rajiv Gandhi in an assassination attributed to the LTTE of Sri Lanka in Sriperumbadur during his election campaign for the Congress party in the 1991 Lok Sabha polls. Rajiv Gandhi led the party and its government from 1984 when his mother Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in Delhi. The assassination was a retaliation to Indira Gandhi sending security forces to inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar to pull out pro-Khalistan Sikh militants who operated from inside the temple precincts where police entry was not allowed. Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister till 1989 and then remained in the Opposition till his demise.

Sonia Gandhi is 72 and not in good health. She cannot carry on holding party responsibilities for long and hence the search for a new leader. Her attempt to project daughter Priyanka Gandhi too did not meet with success. She proved to be a flop while as in-charge for the party machinery for the LS polls in Eastern Uttar Pradesh region. PM Modi’s Varanasi is among the LS constituencies in this region. 

Nehru family reigned supreme when feudalistic trends held sway over India. New India is different. Other players have emerged in politics with high success rate — Modi, who hails from an ordinary family in Gujarat; the Yadavm BC, Dalit leaders in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar; outright plunderers of national wealth as regional leaders in many states etc… Most states today has regional leaders holding sway, with their families in tow, amassing wealth via back channels by the hour — a trend that Narendra Modi and the RSS-inspired BJP are trying to change for the better. 

In the Congress party, there is little of hope that things will change for the better. A set of 23 senior leaders who petitioned Sonia Gandhi for strengthening of the party leadership via holding of elections were cold-shouldered by Sonia Gandhi. She however is now ready to meet them and give them a hearing. She is hoping against hope that Rahul Gandhi will show the readiness to take over the leadership from her. Rahul Gandhi is by now openly branded as a “failed” leader. 


Sonia Gandhi, born in a village in Italy with modest financial background, met Rajiv Gandhi while the two were studying in Cambridge University, the UK. She was doing a short-term language course, and the two met at the university canteen. The romance lasted a while and ended up in marriage. Rajiv Gandhi went on to become a pilot with Air India, while the family remained part of the Indira Gandhi household. Some global investment tracking agencies had claimed a few years ago that she is richer than Queen Elizabeth; or the fourth richest woman in the world. The Congress party stoutly dismissed this as a wrong report. IHN-NN


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