Congress president Rahul Gandhi, along with his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, paid homage to his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on his 74th birth anniversary on Monday. Image Credit: PTI

Urmila Matondkar, an erstwhile Hindi film actor, and a Congress contestant on a Mumbai seat, where she received a drubbing, has quit the party after a mere five months.

Matondkar is symptomatic of what ails the Congress party today. Rootless wannabes lacking in mass support, alien to any centrist ideology are embraced by the Gandhi family, which runs India’s oldest political party like a firm and seems to hate mass leaders.

Congress parliamentary candidate from Mumbai North seat, Urmila Matondkar, leaves after filing her nominations ahead of Lok Sabha elections, in Mumbai, April 8, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Says a senior leader: “The current lot of the Gandhi family act as if they are keepers of a sacred shrine. What they don’t know is there is nothing left to protect. The few who will remain with the durbar -- the useless deadwood of the unelectable and unwanted. This has no age barrier. We have some useless old as well as young leaders.”

Sonia Gandhi, who took over from her son Rahul Gandhi as interim Congress president, is certainly a keeper of the family shrine. She never made any secret of her desire to hand over the party leadership to her son.

The crown was duly handed over to Rahul Gandhi who I recently described as Peter Pan - the boy who refused to grow up. Gandhi Junior quit taking responsibility of the poll debacle and had a short 18-month tenure as Congress chief.

However, while in other parties, and for that matter any top job, the moment you take responsibility for a debacle and quit, you effectively end your decision-making role. Rahul Gandhi quit his designation, he did not quit his powerful decision-making veto in the family party.

All in the family

In fact, the Congress became more Gandhi heavy as it currently has three Gandhi family members, including Priyanka, who is designated general secretary.

For the first time in the history of the party, there is genuine resentment against the Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi with his reluctance to take office and be a 24/7 politician effectively ended the careers of his generation of leaders.

These include: Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada and Milind Deora. Sonia Gandhi had decreed that these leaders, most in their 40’s, would follow her son’s road map. With Rahul Gandhi crashing and burning in politics, these leaders for no fault of theirs, have also become victims of RG’s failures.

Most are headed for the exit as they are committed and ambitious politicians who no longer see any hope in staying with the Congress party.

Team Sonia, which is back in charge, is triumphant. For them Sonia’s return is a career longevity move. They refuse to vacate the canvas for the young Turks.

This, along with the ideological vacuum at the heart of the party, is what ails India’s oldest political party.

Sonia Gandhi in her 19-year stint as chief – longest-ever in party history - did not set much store by ideology. She was guided by pragmatism. The lack of any ideology is cruelly exposed now when the Congress is pitted against the most ideologically driven government of Narendra Modi.

Leaders seem to be thrashing about on issues with contradictory statements a norm.

Read more from Swati Chaturvedi

Most leaders of team Sonia claim that the Gandhi family is the glue that binds the Congress. This is not actually true as it is now evident that power was the glue that actually bound the party together.

The going was good under the two terms of the Manmohan Singh government. Now out of power for six years, the strain and lack of any ideological coherence is showing.

What next for the Congress party?

If the party wants to survive they need to end the cult of the Gandhi family and elect a president. The Gandhi family needs to step aside themselves otherwise India will have less and less interest in a political party which is actually a closed shop family firm.

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