Mother and son refuse to go away despite indications blowing in the wind that their leadership is ringing the death knell of the party, observes Ramesh Menon.
How can a grand old party that ruled India or was instrumental in running most of the states not find a leader who can give it a new fervour and determination?
Sonia Gandhi has been president of the Indian National Congress for over 20 years.
After numerous electoral debacles, 23 senior leaders openly asked for a change in leadership and restructuring of the party.
The response: Silence. They all found that they were isolated and ignored.
Even Congressmen had forgotten when the last party elections were. The Congress Working Committee has degenerated into an unelected body over the previous two decades.
How can it attract young leaders who see no scope for growth and action?
Battered by the aggressive politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party, it has been cornered as never before as one Congress leader after another dumps the party to join a party in power. They see little hope of revival.
Rewind to a political era in India just 15 years ago. The Indian National Congress seemed invincible.
Today, it is out of power at the Centre for the last nine years. Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are the only two states where it is governing. In Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu, it is hanging onto regional parties in a coalition where it is not the dominant partner.
Every fortnight sees the crisis being triggered with Congressmen jumping off the sinking boat.
The BJP leadership realises that rewarding defectors and giving positions of power in the party or in the government will seduce more legislators and MPs from the Congress to jump ship throwing ideology and political correctness to the winds.
In the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress had a vote share of just 2.33 per cent.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has not been in power for the last 55 years.
In West Bengal, the drought for the party has been for the last 30 years.
In Gujarat, it has not seen power for 25 years. Ditto for Odisha.
In Delhi, a state where the Congress was in power for 15 long years with Sheila Dikshit as chief minister, it did not win a single assembly seat in the last election.
Kerala has never seen the same party ride back to power after one term. But in the last election, the CPI-M managed to break the tradition.
In Punjab, one of the few seats where it was in power, it was decimated by the Aam Aadmi Party.
Though Telangana goes to the polls next year, the Congress is not at all prepared. In June 2019, 12 of its 18 MLAs joined the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
There is not even a single silver lining anywhere for the Congress to clutch to in any state where it can demonstrate that it cannot be written away.
Change is one strategy political parties adapt to adjust to changing circumstances.
But the Congress runs away from it as if it is the plague. Even after 23 senior leaders wrote to Congress President Sonia Gandhi to hold elections and restructure the party, it has not been done.
They were effectively sidelined. And silenced.
It has been a long drought for the Congress as far as election victories are concerned.
Even the states they won like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka were lost to machinations by the Bharatiya Janata Party who managed wooed their legislators to cross over and ride to power.
The BJP game plan of a Congress-mukt Bharat is steadily growing.
After every rout, the party got into a huddle to introspect, but nothing came out of it as the leadership was not held accountable and eloquent demands for change were not there.
As it conceded space to the BJP and other parties like the Aam Aadmi Party, it lost state after state.
With the exception of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP has a significant footprint in all states.
Sixty-five prominent Congress leaders have quit since 2014. No effort was made to persuade them to stay.
As many as 222 electoral candidates and 177 MPs and MLAs left the Congress to join other parties between 2014 and 2021, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms. Most of them joined the BJP.
The BJP is very selective about its candidates. Losers do not get tickets.
On the other hand, as many as 170 Congress candidates who got tickets to fight elections had lost the previous two elections!
The BJP is ready to risk new promising candidates. But the Congress chose Kamal Nath as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh over the younger and more dynamic Jyotiraditya Scindia. We saw what happened.
Similarly, it chose 71-year-old Ashok Gehlot over Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan.
Pilot almost toppled the government, but it is just time for him to switch sides if he is not rewarded.
The old guard in Congress is not ready to secede space to the young.
At the Congress's Udaipur conclave, where the party was supposed to be introspect, it was the old guard that ruled the roost.
While the BJP is aggressively strengthening its grassroots support, the Congress leadership does not notice that its once strong district committees are almost defunct today.
While the BJP is forthright about its right-wing stance, the Congress is shaky about its ideologies of being secular and valuing democratic norms or being a modern party that is changing with the times to meet the challenges of the future.
The leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi does not inspire as they seem unsure of the road ahead and how they need to reinvent the party.
If the party splits and a new energetic group emerges, there is some hope.
But the courage to come out openly against its effective leadership and strategy is just not there.
The Congress has greater intellectual capital than the BJP. It has some bright, educated and visionary leaders.
But all of them are not given the opportunity to lead as mother and son rule the roost and refuse to go away despite indications blowing in the wind that their leadership is ringing the death knell of the party.
Ramesh Menon, award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making Of A Prime Minister.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com