December, 1985. The Congress, a brute majority in the Lok Sabha on Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s watch, was celebrating its centenary year at a plenary in Bombay—yes, that was before the city changed its name. And in a speech shocked party stalwarts at the session, Rajiv declared that Congress workers were “handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”. For such “brokers of power”, Rajiv added, “the masses do not count” since “their thinking, or lack of it, their self-aggrandisement…their linkages with the vested interests in society… are wholly incompatible with work among the people”.
Nearly 35 years since those prophetic words, the Congress lies in tatters. The BJP’s Narendra Modi spared the “grand old party” 44 seats in 2014 and 52 in 2019. Yet, the Congress remains the “feudal oligarchy” that Rajiv had cautioned against. The abject failure at the hustings has been autopsied threadbare. Rahul Gandhi, the commander who led his men into the ambush, told his colleagues in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s top decision-maker, his wish to step down as party president. A suitable replacement must be found, preferably within a month. Efforts by Congress leaders, including mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to persuade Rahul to withdraw his resignation have, so far, drawn a blank.