NEW DELHI: The Congress is gasping for breath. And the oxygen usually administered by the First Family has completely dried up after the Uttar Pradesh elections with individual leaders waffling about, even as the party determinedly stays away from introspection that does follow such debacles.

After the UP polls Rahul Gandhi left to fetch his mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi back from the US. His sister who had barely campaigned this time around disappeared, as expected, from view. And till date, although both mother and son are back, even feeble attempts for a AICC meeting, or a Congress working committee meeting, or even a chintan baithak of senior leaders have failed. The First Family is not interested, and except for a little bit of activity in Rajya Sabha and the occasional press meet at the COngress headquarters in Delhi there is little sign of the principal opposition party on the ground.

The despondency amongst senior leaders is palpable. The lawyers like Salman Khursheed, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi have returned almost full time to the courts. And in the central hall, party seniors have little to say about the next Assembly election---for instance in Gujarat where the party has not even evolved a basic strategy---let alone the 2019 general elections.

In Delhi too Ajay Maken fired full barrelled guns only at the Aam Aadmi party for the municipal elections with the BJP allowed a virtual walkover.

An effort by some leaders to bring in a presidium or at least a couple of senior leaders like P.Chidambaram alongside Rahul Gandhi to steer the party has failed as well, with the party President not interested in shaking the status quo of inactivity. The despondency has spread to the states with the workers looking for greener pastures, being offered by the BJP in poll bound states.

In the assessment of other Opposition parties, the Congress is being fast replaced even as the Opposition in most of the states. Left leaders pointed out that the BJP is cutting into the Congress base in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura where the party faces the real threat of being dislodged from the Opposition space as well.

Sonia Gandhi, because of ill health, has stopped travelling altogether and issues condolence messages nowadays as her principal function. Congress leaders who were slightly hopeful that she would step in and bring in a new, effective leadership “to help her son if nothing else” has maintained complete silence. This led a senior leader to say, “her love for Rahulji is clearly staying her hand, and she wants him and no one else to take over.” More so as the UP election defeat placed Rahul Gandhi firmly in the dock, with his high voltage campaign unable to mobilise the party in the state. Most Congress members stayed indoors, including former PCC chiefs with the First Family not even utilising the central leaders to campaign extensively in the state. The show remained that of Rahul Gandhi, and when it failed, no one was really around to pick up the pieces.

The insecurity is such that even the younger leadership that had emerged a few years ago is growing old along with Rahul Gandhi, as it is getting little space to function. Rahul Gandhi seen now by most in the party as a “part time politician” is still retaining his neither here nor there position with the result that the party today has no leader, and no strategy, let alone a program or policy.

As senior MPs are realising, there is no longer a TINA (there is no other alternative) factor that will come to the Congress party’s rescue. As they told The Citizen, “this is all over, we will survive only if we oppose, but we do not seem to have the leadership or the will to do even that.” The very fact that the Left parties have also sunk leaves the Congress without the ideological mentor its First Family often relied on, and bereft of strategy and will of purpose the party is sinking faster than even the sceptics had predicted.

This is also the first time that there is no mention of Priyanka Gandhi as the saviour, in the Congress. As the sources said, “UP has shown that neither Rahul nor Priyanka can revive the Congress.” What can? There is no answer, as while the individual leaders know what, or rather who, is dragging them down they have no idea of what can be done to stem the tide as it were. The couple of ideas, such as a Presidium, or a second Working President with Rahul Gandhi seem to have bitten the dust along with the few leaders who did make an effort after the UP polls threw the Congress asunder.