NEW DELHI: Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi remains indispensable as the grand old party tries hard to work out a coalition of like-minded parties to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2019 national polls.
Sonia, 71, chaired a meeting of 17 opposition parties on Thursday to counter the government in Parliament and outside of it as many veteran allies were not keen to be led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Sensing a 2004 like anti-NDA mood across the country, which Sonia encashed on by bringing like-minded parties together and ensuring that UPA took power at the centre, Congress insiders said the party has a similar opportunity ahead of the 2019 national polls.
Sensing NCP chief Sharad Pawar and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s political ambitions to anchor an Opposition grouping, Congress managers quickly brought Sonia back into the game to ensure the grand old party remains the lead player as it tries to rally forces against the Modi government. “Besides, we did not want to lose out on our advantage of being the only pan-India party in the opposition camp,” a senior AICC functionary told The Sunday Standard.
The move would also placate the likes of Pawar, Mamata, Lalu Prasad, Farooq Abdullah, Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Sitaram Yechury, who have developed a certain comfort level working with Sonia than a much younger Rahul.
Sources in the party acknowledged that catapulting the Congress tally from the 44 it was reduced to in the 2014 national polls to over 150 in 2019 would not be an easy task. A common front makes more sense given that regional parties have grown in the states and want greater space in national affairs, they said.
Moreover, rebuilding the Congress organisation nationwide is a long-term goal and is not going to yield results in a year or two, said Rahul’s close aides.
Last year, Sonia had taken it upon herself to rally opposition forces over presidential polls and led from the front when her close aide Ahmed Patel was being personally targeted by the BJP chief Amit Shah during Rajya Sabha polls.
After Patel managed to register a cliff-hanger win, Rahul urged him to supervise the Gujarat Assembly polls last year.
Party sources said Sonia’s continuance as a political force will also provide some breather to the veterans who have been fearful of a massive shakeup in the organisation after Rahul’s elevation as party chief in December last.
“It seems we will have to work with a mix of youth and experience till the next Lok Sabha polls,” said a Congress veteran. Rahul, too, is fine with the strategy, the sources added.