Covid-19: Congress and Gandhis back in the game

Capital Cameo - Column

While there was disappointment within the Congress party that interim president Sonia Gandhi was not very active and former chief Rahul Gandhi was indifferent to politics, the Covid-19 outbreak seems to have brought them back to the forefront again. Sonia and Rahul are proactive again and, their return to form has boosted the morale of the demoralised Congress workers.

It may be recalled that in 2017, a day before handing over the baton to her son Rahul Gandhi, Sonia had said, “my role is to retire”. She had said she wanted to spend her retired life reading books and spending time with her family. However, situation made it imperative for her to return as interim president in August 2019. The Congress media cell chairman Randeep Surjewala tweeted at that time Sonia Gandhi has retired as President of Indian National Congress and not from politics. This proved to be true, as she has been playing an active role since she has come back as interim president in last August after Rahul Gandhi resigned owning moral responsibility for the 2019 humiliating Lok Sabha poll defeat.

Sonia Gandhi has been a fighter and she has taken up the challenge to fight the Covid-19 despite health problems. Though she sent letters to the Prime Minister supporting the lock down assuring that the party was with the government in fighting against the Covid-19, as the days pass by, there is also some disappointment in the government’s handling of the millions of migrant labour and the suspense about the post lockdown exit strategy.

First of all, Sonia has activated the party to fight the Coronavirus at the state level. She has also activated the Congress chief ministers to provide succour to the needy. She has involved the senior leaders and held three Congress Working Committee meetings to discuss the Covid-19 strategy. She had a virtual meeting with the congress chief ministers last week. Sonia Gandhi asked the Modi government after the meeting. “After 17 May, what? and after 17 May, how? What criteria is union government using to judge how long the lockdown is to continue?”

Initially, on March 25, she wrote a letter extending support to the three-week lock down imposed by the Centre. On April 7, she came out with five suggestions including scrapping of the central vista project, banning government advertisements to media, putting on hold official foreign trips and moving PM Care fund to Prime Minister Relief Fund and other austerity measures in response to Prime Minister Modi’s telephone call to her asking for suggestions. On April 11, she formed a Covid action committee for the party under the chairmanship of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. On April 13, she wrote a letter to the prime minister urging the government to ensure no one faces hunger in fight against the Coronavirus. Hours before the Prime Minister’s address to the nation Sonia sent a video message on April 14, “Today when the country is fighting such a huge battle, I want to assure you all that whether the Congress is in government or is in opposition, it is with you in this fight.”

But the master-stroke came when she announced a week ago that the state Congress units would bear the cost of the train fare of the migrant workers. This forced the Modi government to go back on its decision and allowed the migrant labour travel free to their homes.

Rahul is also actively supporting his mother though he holds no official position now. He is getting ready to take over the party once again. He has been quite visible with his critical tweets. He believes that the Covid situation is serious and lockdown is only a pause button and has suggested a nuanced approach to fight the pandemic. He believes that India will lose if Covid fight is restricted to the PMO and suggested decentralization of power to the district level. He has held press interactions and has also interacted with economic experts like former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee about the economic strategy in the post lockdown period. All these are efforts of an image makeover.

Every crisis gives an opportunity to improve and the Coronavirus gives a huge opportunity for the party to revive, as there are many issues like the migrant labour, post lockdown exit strategy, sliding economy, and succour for the poor and health sector. The party should give constructive cooperation to the Modi government. The Congress must also lead the opposition but the opposition is not united. Each party is going its own way and there is no combined opposition strategy. Last week six opposition leaders submitted a memorandum on the migrant labour problem to the President. The Congress while uniting the party should also try to unite the opposition and also try to bridge the leadership vacuum in the opposition ranks.

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