Sonia Gandhi, interim president of Congress, India's principal opposition party Image Credit: PTI

In India interesting political developments are underway. Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, will come out of semi-retirement to chair a heavy hitters opposition meet on Friday.

Gandhi’s invitations are taken seriously by opposition stalwarts and those expected to be present include M K Stalin, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West-Bengal, Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and the architect of the unlikely Maharashtra government, Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Sitaram Yechury of the Left.

The foreground of this opposition meet is to work on a formula of unity to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Uttar Pradesh elections, now barely six months away. This is also a serious bid by the Congress to take on the mantle of leadership in the opposition ranks.

Significantly, a similar effort by Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president (a breakfast meet during the recent monsoon session of Parliament) meet saw top opposition leaders sending their representatives but not attending in person.

Subsequently some disenchanted Congress leaders, dubbed G23 by the media, called an opposition meet in the guise of celebrating Kapil Sibal’s 74th birthday. That dinner saw attendance by the heavy hitters of the Congress.

The latest move by Sonia Gandhi is also a reflection of the intra party leadership struggle of the Congress with the G23 rebels refusing to be counted out and insisting on a collective leadership for the party.

Sources say that the covenant between the Gandhi family and other top leaders of the Congress was that the Gandhi family were the supreme leaders of the party. This covenant has been fraying for a while with Rahul Gandhi leading the party to two general election losses.

Three main takeaways

Top sources told Gulf News that Gandhi contrary to his stated position in his resignation letter as Congress chief, Rahul is not willing to stand aside and make way for a non family leader.

This has three main takeaways. First, Gandhi is committed to an ideological battle against the Sangh parivar and does not see any leader in the Congress party who is as hard line as he is in taking on the Sangh and its divisive ideology.

Gandhi is also locked in a visceral personal contest with Narendra Modi who has attacked the Gandhi family in a most personal way. Gandhi’s throwaway remark that he could respect L K Advani as a senior leader but, does not feel the same way about Modi is the crux of the contest.

It is truly a personal battle to which Gandhi is giving it his all. The Congress first family scion is still upset that the party leadership did not fully back his campaign against the BJP government over the alleged Rafale corruption deal.

Gandhi is now defined by his personal animosity to the Modi and Amit Shah brand of politics.

The third reason is that all the three members of the Gandhi family are now in politics because they sense that their political capital is being whittled away and losing political clout means an upping of the cases against the family namely Priyanka Gandhi’s controversy ridden husband Robert Vadra.

A coordination mechanism

Priyanka Gandhi and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamalnath have jointly taken on the duties of the late Ahmed Patel, close aide of Sonia Gandhi, who was her bridge to the top leaders of the opposition. Priyanka Gandhi is currently out of the country so the latest Sonia outreach was coordinated by Kamalnath.

So working on a joint opposition blue print to take on the BJP will be the top of the opposition agenda and top sources say that a coordination mechanism will be worked out so that issues such as COVID-19 mismanagement by the Centre, state of the economy, rising prices of essentials and the Pegasus snoop gate are jointly addressed.

Post this a huge organisational reshuffle is expected in the Congress with a generational change of power — long delayed — coming in to force. As exclusively reported by Gulf News, former election strategist Prashant Kishor is expected to come on board and chart out a Congress revival plan.

Kishor has already gone in great depth with all the three Gandhi family members on his blueprint and significantly has the approval of all three. Sonia’s seal of approval is significant as it will get the party leadership to fall in line.

Post the opposition meet, a resolution of Sachin Pilot imbroglio (in Rajasthan) is also on the cards. Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of Rajasthan, has so far dodged four attempts by the Congress high command to have a reshuffle.

Pilot has conveyed to the party his unhappiness at the delay and simultaneously said that he is willing to do any job the Congress wants. Expect Gehlot intransigence to end soon.

Sonia has forced herself out of near retirement to make two statements. The Gandhi family still counts for a lot in India’s opposition and second, a message to her party that the Gandhi family is not going away. Instead it will now do a housecleaning of India’s grand old party.