After an uncharacteristically long winter, spring appears to be finally finding its feet in India. Winter was long and harsh, akin to the predicament faced by the Congress following the summer shocker by Narendra Modi last year.
During his ascendancy to the Delhi throne, Modi loved to talk about a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ and ‘Maa-Beta’ and true to the sentiment of that moment and the days and months that followed; the Congress has been facing one rout after another.
Gone are the days when Sonia would lord over a party that decided the fate of crores of people, the aam aadmis, in the second most populous country of the world.
The Congress workers, long accustomed to power in one form or the other, too were left looking for answers from the ‘high command’ at 10, Janpath.
And when everything seemed lost and with the anointed prince Rahul Gandhi on an extended sabbatical, Sonia Gandhi has made a surprisingly strong return to the centre stage.
Sonia is back! And, not just as the Congress’ voice but of the larger opposition. The march of opposition MPs to the President's House to demand the withdrawal of the Land Acquisition Bill is a case in point that the BJP surely would not have missed.
The Congress president is also building bridges with Anna Hazare. Replying to a letter written by the Gandhian in which he expressed concern over the Centre’s move, Sonia vowed to oppose any change to the bill approved by Parliament in 2013.
The opposition is rallying around her at a time when the government is looking to push through key legislations on the back of the assumption that a divided opposition will find enough takers for his overtures.
Modi’s capacity to deliver on the promise of ‘Acche Din’ rests to a large extent on his success to bring in radical policy changes. The Land Acquisition Bill is just a test case given the more serious and contentious issues that would need Parliament’s ratification if it were to act as a catalyst in Modi’s reform push.
Sonia’s new found vigour was also at display in the Lok Sabha the other day when she opened the debate on the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill. It was unusual to say the least that the Congress president led the charge against the Modi government. She accused the Centre of ‘apathy’ towards the people of the state.
The timing and the content of her speech were both crucial. Her actions in the past few days indicate that she has finally decided to reclaim the space she had acceded to Rahul Gandhi.
It was in 2011 when Sonia suddenly flew out to the US for a surgery for an undisclosed ailment. Her illness brought about the Rahul era, though unofficially, in the Congress.
With Rahul came ‘Team Rahul’ and the old guard, who had spent all their political lives pleasing 10, Janpath, had a new address of consequence in town.
But Rahul’s era – at least for now – appears to have done very little good for the party. Many ‘loyalists’ have abandoned the party to which they owe their political relevance and many more have been left with a sense of utter hopelessness.
But for a true Congressman or woman, it was never only about power; the sense of drift and the loss of confidence about future were the real issues.
Sonia’s decision to come out of mini-retirement needs to be seen in this context. She had once saved the Congress in 1999 and led it to back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2009 and, undoubtedly, she is Congress’ best bet against the formidable Modi-Shah combination.
Sonia is a master strategist and probably the best medicine for the ailing Congress.
Also, the choice of the Andhra Pradesh issue suggests that she is in the driving seat as far as Congress’ attempts to regain lost ground in Andhra Pradesh – a state that was its bastion till not long ago - are concerned.
Clearly, the Congress appears to be working to a plan that rests on the fundamental reality - Rahul may be the future but the party’s present needs Sonia Gandhi.
While the eventual elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the top job still appears to be a certainty, Sonia holding the reins for some more time would do the party a lot of good.
The Congress waits for spring.