Sonia Gandhi retires from the office of the Congress Party’s president and son Rahul Gandhi is about to take over as the new leader. Sonia Gandhi led the Congress for 19 years and had the longest tenure as leader of the grand old party which is 132 years old. She was a little reluctant to begin with but ruled with firmness throughout. With Rahul Gandhi’s succession, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty still remains at the helm of the party. Meanwhile the party machinery has received a setback and its presence in Parliament has become minimal. Sonia Gandhi leaves a mixed legacy. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and after a brief interlude, Congress Prime Minister P.V Narasimha Rao led a shaky government and it cast a gloom over party prospects. The demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992 led to the rise of Hindutva and secularism advocated by the Congress got severely dented.
The Rao economy stood for market forces which was a departure from Indira Gandhi’s socialist approach. Under Sonia Gandhi, the party revived somewhat and won the general election in 2004. The UPA government was cobbled together and Sonia Gandhi was prevented by an inner voice from becoming Prime Minister. However, she remained the controlling force behind the scenes. Democratic accountability got blurred as a result.
The setting up of the National Advisory Council made Sonia Gandhi a parallel power centre outside the government. The Prime Minister’s office held by Manmohan Singh was weakened. That also led to the weakening of the Congress government and its eventual ouster. The party needs a new leadership model and it is hardly likely that Rahul Gandhi can provide it.