New Delhi: The Congress was in a mess when Sonia Gandhi took over its reins in 1998 and within six years she restored the party’s central place in the country’s polity, winning the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and regaining power in many states.
She was able to revive the party when it was down and out and also brought the focus back to welfare and secularism.
Sonia Gandhi has also been credited for taking Congress to the left-of-the-centre position and for crafting good coalitions.
Her legacy is bringing Congress back to a secular position with a focus on welfare and to a position of dominance in the national polity from 2004 onwards.
Though the power centre in the Congress had over the past few years shifted from 10, Janpath, her residence in Delhi, to 12 Tughlak Lane, the official home of Rahul Gandhi, she continued to wield significant clout in organisational matters.
But as she demitted office on October 26 after a record tenure of over two decades, the grand old party is once again fragmented and demoralised with flagging electoral fortunes. The Congress is unable to stem the electoral slide that set in with the humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Her successor Mallikarjun Kharge has to pull out all the stops to ensure his beleaguered party rises to the challenge in the 2024 electoral battle.
But it definitely is a tough ask. To ensure that he remains in the saddle, Kharge will have to regularly seek the guidance of the Gandhis and he himself has acknowledged that.
Her future role:
Apart from playing the role of the patron, she will continue to head the party in Parliament. As the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chairperson, she will have to draw her party’s strategy for both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
A binding force for Congress and known for her ability to stitch alliances, she could be a guiding force for the opposition parties. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had once called her the “glue” that bound the Congress as well as the opposition.
When Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) boss Lalu Prasad had met her in September and urged her to take the lead in bringing the opposition parties together, she had asked them to wait till the Congress President’s elections were over.
Now that Kharge has taken charge as the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi will have to launch efforts to unite the opposition parties against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which looks invincible under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Her biggest hurdle will be to bring on board those parties that are vehemently opposed to the Congress in their respective states such as the Trinamool Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (now Bharat Rashtra Samithi), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the YSR Congress Party.
It is also unclear yet whether she will seek re-election from Rae Bareli in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. And if she doesn’t, there is a possibility that she might shift to the Rajya Sabha.