The one major takeaway from the Opposition's protest march against the Modi government's Land Acquisition Bill is the return of Sonia Gandhi. The Congress president along with former prime minister Manmohan Singh and the leaders of 13 other political parties marched to Rashtrapati Bhawan to protest against the proposed land acquisition legislation, that is widely being seen as anti-farmer.
With Gandhi assuming centre-stage in the protest, many have begun speculating that the imminent change of guard in the Congress party - with vice-president Rahul Gandhi taking over the mantle - might not take place.
Now, this may very well be true, after all even Rahul's "imminent anointment" as party president was itself in the realm of speculation. But today's protest led by Sonia Gandhi doesn't necessarily mean a blow to Rahul Gandhi, rather it points towards the emergence of a division of responsibilities within the Congress party whereby Rahul has a much greater say in party affairs and Sonia Gandhi focuses on making Congress the fulcrum of a broader secular alliance at the national level.
The argument that Sonia Gandhi's re-emergence will pose problems for Rahul is based mainly on one fact: that he was missing from the land acquisition protests. True, his absence is difficult to explain for the Congress, especially as the battle against forcible acquisition of land was Rahul's baby all along. It was his protests in Bhatta Parsaul and Niyamgiri that drove the UPA government to work towards a more just, pro-farmer, pro-tribal Land Acquisition legislation. Therefore he should have been part of the protests.
But to be fair, it was Rahul who asked the Indian Youth Congress to protest against the government's land acquisition ordinance as early as January. IYC under its new leadership carried out protests across the country, culminating in yesterday's Kisaan Satyagraha in Delhi. Rahul's stamp over the agitation is also evident by the fact that it started from Bhatta Parsaul.
Significantly, the Kisaan Satyagraha included leaders from both the so-called Old Guard (leaders close to Sonia Gandhi such as Ahmed Patel and Anand Sharma) and the new guard leaders like Sachin Pilot and Randeep Singh Surjewala besides of course the IYC.
But what hints at a demarcation of responsibilities between Sonia and Rahul is the fact that the former didn't take part in the Kisaan Satyagraha on March 16 but led the march to Rashtrapati Bhawan today.
It seems that she has reassumed the role she took up in the Shimla Session of the Congress in 2003, as a leader of a broad secular alliance. One can already see the emergence of an anti-BJP axis with the Congress and the Janata Parivar at its core, supported by parties like the Left, Trinamool Congress and to some extent DMK and NCP.
AIADMK has made it clear that it is more pro-government than pro-Opposition while BJD, TRS and BSP are fence-sitters.
The Congress seems to have realised that though the "need to fight communalism" will be the main plank that will bring this alliance together, the only way to counter the Modi government is to attack it for being anti-farmer and anti-poor.
Therefore irrespective of whether there is a change of guard in the Congress, the party will turn ideological leftward perhaps to where it was during UPA-1 or even more. With Rahul likely to play a more dominant role in the organisation, the Congress might move towards a more agitational brand of politics. If that happens, it would be good for the Congress to have Sonia Gandhi leading a united Opposition in Parliament with Rahul initiating protests on the streets.