Whether Rahul likes it or not, he will be judged by what he does to put the party back on its feet, says Colonel R Hariharan (retd).
Is Rahul Gandhi president of the Congress party or not?
He seems to continue to be the Congress chief though he does not seem to think so.
Rahul Gandhi's anomalous status as Congress president fits in with Saiva Siddhanta philosophy's comparison of the ideal state of our existence to worldly happenings to that of a tamarind fruit.
While the fruit continues to be inside the shell, it remains unaffected as it is not attached to it.
Rahul Gandhi became party president in 2017 after a great deal of reluctance and four-year experience as vice-president, a position established for him.
Apparently, his tenure as party vice-president did not endear him to ageing regional satraps because Rahul's sporadic tinkering with the Congress 'formula' of working excluded them.
But they had the last laugh because his successive failures reinforced their relevance to the party, much like the preference for an old shoe when a new shoe chafes the foot.
After the Lok Sabha election debacle, at the Congress Working Committee meeting on May 25, Rahul offered to step down from his post, taking moral responsibility for the party's abysmal performance in the Lok Sabha election.
It is important to note he did not resign. He had also lamented that senior leaders Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot had preferred to keep the interests of their sons over those of the party.
Of course, as it was an offer to resign and not a resignation, it was convenient for the CWC to reject the proposal.
However, Rahul has continued to be adamant on quitting the leadership of the party. He said he took the decision to ensure accountability for the party's Lok Sabha poll debacle.
'I have resigned after taking full responsibility and ensuring accountability for the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. I cannot ask others to resign too. It is up to them if they want to take responsibility,' he said.
Though Rahul's threat to quit created a domino effect with several leaders tendering their resignations, the old guard must have the last laugh. They have seen it all every time when a Gandhi scion was involved in such a situation.
Now two regional satraps -- Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh back in power as chief minister -- stand as proof their time tested Congress 'formula' had worked better, at least at the state level, than Rahul's new-fangled (as the gerontocracy in the Congress leadership view it) penchant for an AI-based approach to elections.
In spite of this, the two senior leaders have persisted with the demand to persuade Rahul to continue as Congress president. They would rather have a Gandhi scion as president, regardless of his desire, rather than see one among them getting on the Congress gaddi.
To the Congress 'family' -- the diminishing number of adulatory followers who follow the Shinto traditions of family worship -- any Gandhi was better than any one of their own leaders.
However, the Lok Sabha drubbing has shown the old guard's time tested 'formula' talk of secularism and equity for all has been all but submerged by predatory corruption and cronyism. Rahul's new formula based on data has also not worked.
The party must recognise the Congress collapse was only hastened by Narendra Damodardas Modi's offer of a new narrative the masses could relate to.
Rahul reminds one of 'the Reluctant Peer' Anthony Wedgewood Benn, member of the house of lords. Averse to his hereditary title of Lord Stansgate, Tony Benn hurriedly filed his disclaimer to the hereditary title the moment the peerage bill received royal assent on July 31, 1963.
Apparently, Rahul is neither Tony Benn and nor has the Congress royalty given its assent for him to quit. So Rahul continues to be the Reluctant President of the Grand Old Party.
Immediately after the election results were announced, Rahul put up a brave face and went on a victory parade in Wayanad. He did not waste time to ponder over his defeat in Amethi, his pocket borough, by Smriti Irani. Had he done so, he would have done some honest soul searching to understand the nature of the Congress party's pathetic performance.
Rahul is likely to defer to the wishes of the delegation of Congress chief ministers converging in New Delhi to persuade him to continue, which should bring the 'reluctant president' episode to a close.
The sad truth is the Grand Old Party, shorn of its last vestiges of grandeur, looks fit to be admitted in a hospice.
Whether Rahul likes it or not, whether he has a working president or any other alternate arrangement or not, he will be judged by what he does to put the party back on its feet.
Running down Prime Minister Modi is definitely not the way to do it because the Congress has not only to offer a new narrative, but market it to a new audience.
Elections are no more what they were in grandma Indira's days. The party suffers on two counts: Self-inflicted injuries by well entrenched vested interests masquerading as leaders; and losing touch with the dynamics of change among voters.
As many Opposition leaders have acknowledged, the Congress failed because it could not sell the idea that the voter would get a better deal by voting the party to power.
So Rahul the leader, reluctant or otherwise, has to strategise marketing the repackaged Congress to the next gen, which decides losers and winners.
They may live in rural or urban areas, but are all mobile savvy to size up politicians and parties and by and large make up their own mind.
Of course, the power of money, muscle and caste do help win elections; but Modi's success has shown that they alone can't achieve it.
Though Rahul had tried to paint an unflattering picture of big business, he can benefit from their marketing wisdom.
For a start, the leadership can read up marketing messiah Philip Kotler's fourth iteration -- Marketing 4.0 -- on new marketing strategies. It is based on observation and analysis of the paradoxes in view of the digital technology boom.
While marketing political parties to the voter in the digital age, neither data analysis alone nor old formulas by itself would work.
Leaders will have to understand how online meets offline, why style must be complemented with substance, and why Machine to Machine is incomplete without Human to Human.
The key words are technology and substance as much as human to human.
Colonel R Hariharan (retd) served as executive director of the Madras Management Association. He has been a corporate trainer for more than a decade.