Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress president barely provokes even a yawn anymore but this time around (time unspecified) Gandhi's coronation as chief of India's oldest political party will include the formal entry of sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her controversial husband Robert Vadra.
Priyanka Gandhi will become either vice-president (post currently held by Rahul Gandhi) or general secretary in charge of the crucial Uttar Pradesh.
While Vadra will make a formal entry in to politics the contours of his role are undefined and shrouded in as much secrecy as is possible. Senior Congress leaders point out that neither the party nor the family wanted him in politics as he was perceived as an albatross around the neck of the "ultimate weapon" - Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
But, with the Modi, Shah and Jaitley trio targeting him incessantly, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are now persuaded that it's unfair for Vadra to bear the brunt.
Priyanka Gandhi is learnt to have told senior leaders that "the BJP was forcing and pushing her husband in to politics and Vadra had a right to defend himself".
Priyanka seeing the ebb in the Congress fortunes is passionate about trying to ensure that the party has a future. While it is unlikely that she will be the party's face in UP as wished for by strategist Prashant Kishor, it is clear that she will call the shots in the state which is critical if the Congress has to survive.
"It's going to be Mayawati versus Priyanka versus Dimple Yadav versus Smriti Irani or Uma Bharti" (both competing to be the BJP's face). The all-woman leadership contest will ensure a high decibel contest.
The Congress cadres, dormant for nearly 20 years in UP, will finally have a reason to stir out of their homes and bring out the laddoos and fireworks as Priyanka will join the battle.
The Congress leaders' main worry is that Priyanka's entry will entirely over shadow Rahul and will create a rival power centre much as it has right now with Mrs Gandhi.
|With the Congress in the grip of an existential crisis, conventional wisdom has been given the go-by with radical solutions seen as the answer.|
A senior strategist says "when Rahul was made vice-president I had told Mrs Gandhi that it is going to create a problem with the old guard who will continue to look at you".
But, with the Congress in the grip of an existential crisis, conventional wisdom has been given the go-by with radical solutions seen as the answer.
What of the longest serving Congress president Sonia Gandhi? She has long wanted to hand over the party to Rahul and bow out. Her continuance is only because of crisis after crisis and persistent losses.
Contrary to speculation, the entire old guard will not leave as the "baba log" simply do not have the experience or even the outreach to other parties.
Key coordinators who liaise with Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and other senior leaders will remain for the simple reason that the Gandhis need them. Senior leaders confide that Rahul, unlike his mother, is a person of strong likes and dislikes and that trait is causing huge problems.
While, Mamata Banerjee has an excellent equation with Sonia Gandhi she has been unable to replicate it with Rahul Gandhi. Her recent jibe that Gandhi was a USP for Modi came after she was smarting after serial snubs from him.
A senior leader says, "In politics you always need to have a window open. The problem with RG is that once he dislikes someone it's palpable. Even in 1984 his father Rajiv Gandhi cut many tickets but, then we had 402 seats now we have 44 but, Rahul has not changed."
Senior leaders hope that Priyanka Gandhi who is fiercely political and has a huge grasp of party affairs will go after victories and not vague experiments in inner party democracy like her brother.
Assam which has added a fresh spring to the BJP's step would not have been lost rue senior leaders if Rahul Gandhi had been more accommodating.
Even the alliance with the Left in Bengal which was a contradiction to Kerala could have been avoided. A tie-up with Banerjee suggested by many and desired by her was shot down by Rahul.
Seasoned leaders say that Priyanka should come in at the earliest and the entire party should work to defeat the BJP in Gujarat, Modi's citadel, and the laboratory of the famous Gujarat model.
Another senior Congress leader says yearningly, "It's doable. The BJP is faltering and we need to go in for the kill. But, not like this. One of the Gandhis has to go and park themselves there. Take up every issue. Get the Patels on our side. Enthuse the cadre. Politics is a 24/7 job. You cannot be a tourist. Imagine the blow to Modi if we defeat him in his home."
This analysis has an element of truth as the BJP is unlikely to do well in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Modi peaked in 2014 and the BJP has done well only where it has had a direct contest with the Congress.
Take the case of Punjab where the Akali Dal-BJP alliance is slated to lose ground but the beneficiary is expected to be the AAP, not the Congress.
Sachin Pilot, unlike the other scions, is actually working hard on the ground and giving Vasundhara Raje and the BJP a fight in Rajasthan.
Reviving the Congress is a huge ask but not impossible despite the ritual obituaries written after every defeat.
Could Priyanka, perceived as charismatic and with an ease in politics unlike Rahul, at least make the Congress a contender in UP?
It's possible but, the odds are huge as it means exhausting the Family's armoury of its ultimate weapon.
The party will flock to her and rally around her unlike Rahul but, will the country?