Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra means little in the face of the Congress party’s organisational weaknesses

Cutout of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi outside at the Ramlila Maidan on 3 September 2022 in Delhi. Sonu Mehta / Hindustan Times
Elections 2024
29 October, 2022

The Congress’ organisational elections are over and, to no one’s surprise, Mallikarjun Kharge has defeated Shashi Tharoor to become the new party president. Kharge has said he will look to the Gandhis for guidance, even as Rahul Gandhi says his future in the party will be decided by Kharge. Despite such easy cues, the actual challenge before Kharge is not simply about trying to do what any one Gandhi wants but to balance the conflicting signals that the Gandhis themselves have been sending out.

Kharge is their latest compromise. He was not their first choice for party president and has his task cut out. For the moment, the party is focussed on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has the advantage of showcasing Rahul’s attributes—such as his earnestness and willingness to be seen on the ground in a consistent and persistent manner—that has resulted in a degree of change in how he is perceived. But this change, even if it is sustained, means little in a party not organisationally placed to take advantage of it. Modi has deluded many into believing politics is about the charisma of a single person, but this charisma would be ineffective without the machinery of the Sangh Parivar translating it into political action.

At the moment, the Congress is nowhere near prepared and, as its recent history shows, is in far worse shape than when Rahul first joined the party. Just over a year ago, it was in power in Punjab. Amarinder Singh’s second tenure as chief minister had been disastrous; he had run an inept administration that was widely perceived as corrupt. His legislators opposed him, with dissent openly voiced by those loyal to Navjot Singh Sidhu. Among the electorate, the Aam Aadmi Party was mounting a serious challenge.

The Congress’ cure for the situation, prescribed by Rahul, turned out to be far worse than the disease. Amarinder had always been close to Sonia Gandhi and had been drafted into the party by Rajiv Gandhi, who was a school friend. But he was no acolyte. He had resigned from the party after Operation Bluestar. As chief minister, he had defied the party high command and the Manmohan Singh government over the Sutlej–Yamuna Link Canal. His victory in Amritsar over the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley was the Congress’s biggest takeaway from the 2014 general election.