Times are bad. For the Congress, of course. The resignation of Rahul Gandhi as president of the party has apparently thrown it into such disarray that the Congress working committee has put Sonia Gandhi back at the helm as interim president when the deck seems to be tilting every which way amid some of the choppiest seas the party has known. The return — the CWC has not defined “interim” — of Ms Gandhi to a chair from which she had led the party to victory in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and 2009 may even indicate an irrational hope: irrational because the circumstances are now completely different. This is apart from the fact that Mr Gandhi had called for an overhaul of the party which, he had said, no Gandhi should head. Ms Gandhi was naturally unwilling to accept the honour; she would be a representative of an old guard her son had wished to dismantle, while opening up the field again to charges of family or dynastic rule.
There seems to be little cause for celebration in a ‘last resort’ choice except that internal disagreements may abate for a while under a familiar leader, with the possibility of a split reduced for the time being. But these are ‘negative’ gains, underlining deep and persistent problems in the Congress, some of which Mr Gandhi had tried to address during his short stint as president. His idea that the views of state party leaders be considered in deciding the president was followed by the CWC — a quasi-democratic move which had been lacking — yet the result was the same. This reveals a lack of trust among members and a shameful hesitation to shoulder responsibility. The Congress must be determined to rebuild the party from the inside; only then will the revamping and the accountability Mr Gandhi had desired be reached. Would this be possible with Ms Gandhi as interim chief? She would have to hold together a party which the senior members expect her to stabilize with them in mind while the young seek her support in trying out their wings. And this would have to be achieved while the grass grows greener on the other side — or retribution for past deeds, real or imagined, comes knocking on the door at midnight.