For the Congress' revival, the eclipse of the Gandhis is absolutely necessary, asserts Virendra Kapoor.
You didn't have to be a soothsayer to predict that aside from hot air nothing would emerge from the so-called Chintan Shivir in Udaipur.
Yes, there would be promises of change, a new beginning, a new determination, and much more in the same vein, but at the end of the jamboree hosted by the party in power in Rajasthan very little of substance emerged.
For, the Ancien Régime in the Congress party is hard to uninstall.
The Gandhis are fully in control and the Udaipur orchestra too is conducted by them and them alone.
Critics might not give them credit for cleverness and intelligence, but when it comes to survival they are past masters at the game.
Consider how following the complete washout in the recent assembly polls, the Gandhis created the impression that at long last they were ready to take drastic steps for the party's revival.
For weeks the media was full of reports about the top brass seriously engaging with poll consultant Prashant Kishor.
A handpicked panel was tasked to consider Kishor's week-long presentation which called for infusion of fresh blood, acquiring a distinct ideological thrust, correcting the public messaging, etc.
But how serious was the ruling triumvirate can be gauged from the fact that midway through Kishor's interaction Rahul Gandhi pushed off abroad on holiday while sister Priyanaka jetted off to the US.
Having assured themselves that the threat of a rebellion from within had blown over they could now furlough abroad.
It was business as usual as far as they were concerned.
The Udaipur Chintan Shivir was a continuation of the same self-delusionary exercise to keep the few Congressmen who still remain in the party essentially for want of better options elsewhere to believe that finally corrective measures are being taken to revitalise the once thriving Grand Old Party.
On day one, expectedly Sonia Gandhi, reading from a prepared script, gave a clarion call to her flock to get ready for taking on the evil Narendra Modi government.
But it is her reference to 'atamchintan' (self-introspection) that ought to be of immediate interest to Congressmen desperate seeking revival of their own fortunes.
An idea of how serious the Gandhis are for self-introspection can be had from the fact that Kapil Sibal, the main mover behind the Group of 23, was disinvited from the Udaipur Shivir.
By pointedly leaving out someone like Sibal whose forthright criticism of the party leadership may not have endeared him to the Gandhis, the latter sent out a clear signal.
Which was that no change at the top would be brooked which entailed marginaliSing the Family.
To paraphrase Dev Kanta Borooah -- the Congress president during the Emergency -- the Gandhis are the Congress and the Congress is Gandhis. Period.
Sonia calling for reforms in the party sounded ludicrous since the biggest reform that the party needs is for her to shun son-love and allow a new leadership to grow roots.
Yet, the Udaipur Shivir may still pave the way for a less arrogant and less isolationist Congress.
One of the major planks of Kishor's blueprint for the Congress revival was for it to enter into election alliances with regional parties with the objective of avoiding a split of the anti-BJP vote.
The Gandhis still suffer from the illusion that the Congress on its own is capable of fighting both the BJP and the dominant regional parties simultaneously.
Kishor prescribed a pragmatic programme which reflects the vastly diminished Congress presence on the ground.
In states where regional parties hold sway the Congress would need to seek a role as a junior partner not only for its survival, but for defeating the BJP.
Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi shows no appreciation of the ground realities while thundering against regional parties.
The other day, his trenchant criticism of the ruling TRS government in Hyderabad was hardly conducive to a potential electoral alliance.
Even in a post-election scenario when no party gets a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, such a show of bitterness would cause the TRS to do business with the BJP rather than with the Congress for government-formation.
In sum, the Udaipur Chintan Shivir might yet again set the time-frame for internal organisational elections and thus prolong the status quo for several more months.
Given that the most vocal group in Udaipur pressed for Rahul Gandhi to formally assume the role of the party chief, which anyway he has been playing informally under the acting president, it would come as a no surprise should after all these months he again assumes de jure role as party chief, albeit 'under intense party pressure.'
Of course, don't expect anyone brave enough to stand up and speak truth to the Gandhis.
Not unlike the once most popular cooking oil brand in the country called Dalda, the Gandhis are no longer relevant in the political market.
Owners of the Dalda brand were professional managers. They did not want to waste money on a product which was well past its sell-by date. They dumped the brand and moved on.
To continue with the same analogy, the professionally run company always had its hand on the consumers' pulse, quick to adapt and embrace change.
When Nirma revolutionised the detergent market with its low-cost washing powder, the makers of the high-end brand of detergent were ready with their own answer, meeting the challenge from small-scale manufacturers head-on by introducing their own budget brand of detergent.
Like Dalda, the Gandhis too have lost their brand value.
The Congress needs a new leader, a new image, a new programme, bridge-building with all non-BJP parties.
The starting point for this exercise to be fruitful has to be the Gandhis stepping aside, abjuring claim to the prime ministerial gaddi and committing themselves to rebuild and re-energise the party with the active cooperation of millions of Congressmen who deserted the party in disgust against their failure to lead.
Such a Chintan by the Gandhis alone may help the party revive itself ahead of the 2024 poll.
Chances of this happening seem remote though.
What is more likely is that the Udaipur feint may well result in Rahul further strengthening his grip either directly or through a hand-picked puppet on the party, dashing hopes of the Congress revival.
For the revival of the Congress, the eclipse of the family is absolutely necessary. Period.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com