First, the Congress had announced late last year, that it would hold the election electronically, after issuing digital ID cards to all AICC members – no virus can affect an election held this way. And secondly, after having run full-throated electoral campaigns in so many States, what is so challenging about holding something as limited as an election to the Congress presidentship?
The question assumes an even sharper character, given that the Congress has traditionally elected its presidents unopposed. The last time a challenge was posed was in 2000, when Jitendra Prasada contested against Sonia Gandhi, an election where the fight was always going to be symbolic – an act to demonstrate that Gandhi did not enjoy the support of the entire party, as her loyalists claimed. As it turned out, Prasada polled a sorry 94 votes against her opponent’s 7,542, which demonstrated her tight grip over the Congress.
Having cancelled the election that was to take place in June, the CWC has fixed no alternative date, merely stating that it will be held when the COVID-19 situation improves. In other words, all that has been done is to kick the can further down the road. This is far from ideal for a party that has been roundly defeated in the recent round of State elections. In West Bengal, it has been pushed, along with its Left Front partner, into the political wilderness; in Assam, it failed to make an impact, despite striking a potentially powerful alliance with the AIUDF; and in Kerala, it was unable to buck the traditional anti-incumbency trend, that used to lead to the defeat of elected governments every five years. It was only in Tamil Nadu, that it was able to take some comfort in being part of a winning front, but there is little doubt that it would have drawn a blank here if it contested on its own.
Given that it has come off the back of this sorry performance, one may have thought that the Congress would be in a hurry to repair its seemingly sinking ship and ring in the kind of organisational changes that could hold out the hope for some kind of political revival. What it has to deal with now is to have a reluctant Sonia Gandhi in charge as interim president, a whimsical Rahul Gandhi who will not accept the presidentship but will not relinquish the unofficial power he exercises over the party, and a bunch of senior Congress leaders who are quietly wringing their hands in this bizarre environment of prevarication and indecision.
The issues raised by the group of 23, who wanted this saga of uncertainty to end, remain to be addressed. Clearly, the string of electoral defeats has not been enough for the Congress to put its house into order. Neither have revolts, such as that by Jyotiraditya Scindia, or near revolts, such as the one by Sachin Pilot. Given this, it is not clear what exactly it will take to stop this prevarication and arrest the free fall in its fortunes.