Where did Rahul Gandhi fail

The Gandhis, India's once proud political dynasty, successfully crush a revolt in their party

Although she shows no will to shape, the family clings to power in the Congress Party. The Gandhis are preventing the urgently needed renewal of the only nationwide relevant opposition party.

A revolt against the leadership of the Gandhi family, instigated by a group of high-ranking officials from the Indian Congress Party, seems to have failed for the time being. Apparently to put the dissidents in their place and to underline the Gandhi's claim to power, the party leadership under Sonia Gandhi's leadership rebuilt the congressional faction in parliament last week. Loyal supporters of the political dynasty were rewarded with influential posts. Their critics, however, were punished.

The showdown between the innovators and traditionalists in the party founded in 1885 had begun about two weeks ago. At that time, an explosive letter was published in which 23 party leaders addressed party president Sonia Gandhi. In the five-page letter, the critics relentlessly dissected how the party that had directed the fate of India for decades while Gandhi's tenure had gambled away the people's trust. The critics called for radical reforms, honest discussions without taboos and “visible, full-time leadership”.

It was the sharpest attack against Sonia Gandhi since she was first elected party president in 1999. That the attack was to be taken seriously is shown by the fact that otherwise partially divided party princes from different regions of India came together against the 73-year-old. Although the ranks of the party have been rumbling for a long time, hardly anyone has dared to openly criticize them: the Gandhis have successfully defended their claim to power for decades by sidelining potential rivals and ambitious party officials.

The party leader offered to resign

This attempted coup could also end with those involved disappearing into oblivion. Gandhi loyalists have been demanding in the past few days that those who signed the letter be punished. That has now happened.

Liberal Indians see the events with concern: As long as the only nationwide relevant opposition party is busy tearing itself apart, nothing and no one will slow down the triumph of the right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, observers fear. "Trapped in its inner mechanisms, the party hardly wasted a thought on formulating a message with which it could win back voters," writes the website Scroll.in.

After the critic's letter became known, Gandhi convened a virtual meeting of the top party leadership on Monday. According to reports in Indian media, Sonia's partisans are said to have put down their critics in a seven-hour marathon session. The spokesman is said to have been Sonia's son and heir Rahul Gandhi. The party leader herself seemed so sure of her cause during the meeting that she has meanwhile even offered to resign - only to have her supporters beg her to please remain in office at least on an interim basis. In six months it is to be discussed how the party, which last held an election for the office of party leader in 2001, will determine its leadership personnel in the future.

The venerable group urgently needs to be reformed - Gandhi supporters and opponents even agree on this. The Congress party has threatened to sink into insignificance in recent years. In 2014 and 2019 she suffered crushing defeats in the parliamentary elections. The party got just 44 and 52 of the 543 seats in the House of Representatives in Delhi. Congress is currently in power in only 6 of India's 36 constituent states and union territories.

There are many reasons for the poor performance. The decades in which the party held the reins in Delhi made it sluggish, led to encrustation and corruption. Many voters are deeply disappointed by this. While Prime Minister Modi is relying on the pull of his Hindu hurray patriotism, the secular Congress has no vision with which to inspire voters. Modi's BJP party is a tightly structured cadre organization. The congress, on the other hand, is an ancient fabric of rope teams. The party chief seems to be mainly occupied with securing its benefices.

Are the Gandhis just a legacy?

The various wings of the party disagree on how to remedy these abuses. The decisive trench war is raging over whether the renewal should take place under the aegis of the Gandhi dynasty - or whether the political dynasty is a legacy from which the party must finally free itself.

The Gandhi clan has controlled the fortunes of the Congress party since India's independence in 1947. The dynastic structure has long been a plus for the party. It suggested reliability and continuity to the voters. In every generation there has been a prime minister from the family: first there was Jawaharlal Nehru, who led India to independence. His daughter Indira accidentally took the surname made famous by Mahatma Gandhi through marriage and served as Prime Minister for fourteen years. Her son Rajiv Gandhi also held the office. His widow Sonia initially led the party through successful times, from 2004 to 2014 Congress ruled the country. But then the voters ran away in droves.

The Gandhi supporters argue that the family is the only glue that holds the party together. If no more Gandhi unite the allegiances, the huge party will split up and lose even more power. Without the counterweight of the Congress party to the BJP, however, there is a risk that India will become a one-party state.

Opponents of Gandhi, on the other hand, point out that the current generation - Sonia's two children - are not cut from the same cloth made from the prime minister. If the party wants to survive, it must finally let up young politicians without family ties. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi shows little enthusiasm for politics and goes abroad whenever possible. His sister Priyanka is embroiled in corruption scandals through her husband and tends to be high-handed. The fact that the family clings to power on the one hand, but does not demonstrate a will to lead on the other, has become a problem that threatens the existence of the party.