Those who know Sonia Gandhi closely acknowledge that the Congress chief is a very good listener and learner. Her life in politics has been shaped by destiny. A witness to the sharp fall in fortunes of prime ministers from her own family, Sonia Gandhi understands that dissent must not be allowed to simmer for long, nor should it be dismissed.
It comes as no surprise then that, after her son Rahul Gandhi, Sonia too has cracked the whip on public displays of dissidence.
Sources say her statement at the Congressional Working Committee meeting on Monday was just the first step. "The party has given a lot, and it is time that party leaders pay back with consistent and united support," she said.
Another step Sonia Gandhi has taken is to carefully choose the team that will handle the Chintan Shivir, which will take place from May 13–15 in Udaipur. Thought has gone into including some members of the Dissent Group of 23 among the 400 delegates who will attend the conference. Some of them have been entrusted with important roles as well, like Bhupinder Hooda, who will head the committee on agriculture.
But the central aspects of the Chintan Shivir are in the hands of those loyal to Rahul Gandhi. "It’s been seen that only those close to Rahul Gandhi aggressively stand by and fight for the party in bad times. "Such people need to be rewarded," "said a Congress member who was at the CWC.
The fact that many Rahul Gandhi loyalists like Jitin Prasada, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and RPN Singh left for greener pastures has been largely left unaddressed.
The biggest challenge now for Congress and Sonia Gandhi is to ensure that leaders stay with the party and don’t move to the BJP or AAP. At the Shivir, a loyalty oath is likely to be administered to party members, and Sonia wants those attending to ensure that they and their supporters stay with the party. That task gets tougher with each electoral loss.
The other big issue which is likely to expose the hypocrisy and contradiction within the Congress was a proposal mooted at the CWC which will be taken up at the Chintan Shivir – the "one man, one post" and "one ticket from one family" rules.
Many leaders are disgruntled that their children or close relatives are being denied tickets. The leadership, however, is hoping that this will help blunt the BJP’s dynasty politics charge at the grand old party. But the high command does face a dilemma. Under the rules, only one member of the Gandhi family will be allowed to contest on a Congress ticket, and that member will most likely be Rahul Gandhi.
So what happens to Priyanka Gandhi’s likely electoral foray in 2024? Is Sonia Gandhi opting out? Or will there be an exception for the Gandhi family?
"Well, it could also mean one Gandhi can go to the Rajya Sabha! "Chances are that there could be an exception made for the Gandhis," said a leader at the meeting.
But the latter would only end up reinforcing the criticism that the Congress can not look beyond the Gandhis.
The Chintan Shivir will hope for urgent course correction and counter parties like AAP and TMC. But in the end, it is likely to make two things clear – whether you fall in line or fall out, and that Rahul Gandhi is indispensable.