Many thought that former Haryana chief minister and senior Congress leader B. S. Hooda might announce his new outfit, breaking away from the Congress on August 18 at a huge public rally he had organised. It was no big secret that Hooda has been unhappy with the way he has been sidelined by the party bosses despite his huge contribution to the party, particularly when he was the chief minister.

Although Hooda did not announce his new party, he hinted that unless he was made the Haryana Congress chief replacing his bête noire and the current Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, he would go his way. This was said with 12 of the 15 Haryana Congress MLAs sitting by his side on the dais when he was showing his strength at his Parivartan rally on August 18. Hooda shocked every one by supporting the BJP on the issue of scrapping of Article 370, contrary to what the Congress Working Committee had decided.

Interestingly, instead of targeting the BJP in the state, Hooda trained his guns at the party high command. He also attacked the present PCC chief who gets his strength from his closeness to the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi has not heeded his demand. So the question is whether Hooda will take the plunge and leave the sinking ship? Many leaders have been deserting the party including Rajya Sabha members like Sanjay Singh and Bhuvanesh Kalita in recent months.

There is all round erosion as many legislators have left the Congress in other states like Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa and West Bengal since the 2019 defeat. Politically Hooda may have left it too late if he is intending to launch a new party because Assembly elections are just two months away. There are others who feel that the BJP is making efforts to split the faction-ridden Congress. At least four factions led by Ashok Tanwar, Kumari Seilja, Kiran Choudhury and Hooda do not see eye to eye on anything. The revolt by Hooda shows the growing weakness of the Gandhis. For 75 days the party was paralysed on account of the resignation of Congress President Rahul Gandhi taking responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Now that Sonia Gandhi is back as interim president many expect normalisation of the things. However, it is taking time as Sonia grapples with problems. The dilemma for Sonia has been whether to accede to the demands of Hooda or allow him to leave the party. If Hooda quits now, he will join the list of some of Haryana’s tall leaders like Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal, who had left Congress and floated their own outfits though they did not succeed in their ventures.

With hardly a few weeks left for the Assembly polls, if Sonia installs Hooda as the party chief, rebels in other states who would be emboldened to assert themselves. On the other hand, if Sonia allows him to go, then the Congress is likely to lose Haryana and the party might draw a blank in the polls. This also brings us to the question about the way the Congress has deliberately reduced state leaders to mere appendages since the time of Indira Gandhi. The Congress is now paying the price. Instead of nurturing state leaders, the Sonia-Rahul duo has also allowed several second rung leaders to leave the party.

Sonia is now left with rebellion and erosion in many states. She not only has to get the poll-bound states ready, but also stem the discontent in the party. She has the unenviable task of bringing back discipline in the party. For instance not only Hooda, but several other Congress leaders have supported the Article 370 move embarrassing the party leadership. Sonia Gandhi herself admitted that challenges facing the Congress are formidable, but it must continue with its ideological struggle against divisive forces.

She said this while addressing a meeting on the occasion of celebrating her husband Rajiv Gandhi’s 75thbirthday celebrations. Her first challenge is to revive the party. The Congress has been imploding. From defections to infighting, Congress has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons since its rout in the Lok Sabha elections. She has the difficult task of preparing the party for the generational shift and lead the opposition. For all this, her statusquoist approach has to change.

She must take bold decisions and be aggressive. The late M L Fotedar, in his autobiography pointed out: “History is threatening to repeat itself. It is a matter of time before Sonia and Rahul’s leadership is challenged from within the party. I will be observing closely how they stand up to this looming challenge, because Sonia is not Indira and Rahul is not Sanjay.” His words have proved to be prophetic except he