New Delhi: Will the Surajkund mela of Congress help it? No. Political logic says Congress’s massive (rented) rally in Ramlila Maidan should have succeeded Surajkund. But even if it had, it would make no difference to the party’s electoral fortunes, which are zero.

Congress’s chief problem is it has no credible prime minister candidate to lead it to the elections. Sonia Gandhi is ruled out. Even if she were to overcome her “inner voice” and bid for prime-ministership, her foreign origin will come in the way. And after Vadragate, she cannot withstand intense scrutiny on the corruption issue. Thanks to Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, all PM aspirants have to pass the cleanliness test, and few top Indian politicians can do that.

If not Sonia Gandhi, then Rahul? Congress will project him as its prime minister nominee, but after Vadragate and National Herald, he cannot claim to have an unblemished record. And there is no knowing what more Kejriwal will dredge up before the general elections. Whatever Kejriwal exposes has a habit of hurting the exposed, and certainly, Rahul Gandhi would hope and pray he is not on his hit-list.

But even if the anti-corruption crusader were to be kind to the Nehru-Gandhi scion, Rahul simply does not have it in him to be prime minister. Ram Jethmalani is not off the mark to call him “illiterate”. When a star technocrat such as Manmohan Singh can make a shambles of his prime-ministership, it is pure horror to contemplate how much lower Rahul Gandhi will plunge the country. Rahul won’t do. Everyone knows that. His political tutors know that. One of them called him a “murkh” which is best not translated.

So if Congress has truly no one to lead it to the polls, and it is floundering without purpose and direction, what is Surajkund about?

Obviously, a regime cannot call it quits because of climate change, and Sonia Gandhi is not one to give up power easily. Because Sonia Gandhi does not have the political charisma and confidence of Indira Gandhi, who could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, she will ensure that UPA-2 remains in power till the last. The Manmohan Singh government will do everything to keep its allies in place, with cajolement, crumbs thrown from the table, threats of CBI, sweet talk, ego massage, and so forth. But power won’t be given up without total war.

Sonia Gandhi’s idea is to survive one day at a time, and such a tactic makes for risk-averseness. Because she is stuck with Manmohan Singh, she is forced to back his ill-considered “reform” measures. Knowing that Congress has scant regard for Manmohan Singh, she has enjoined his government in Surajkund to take the party along on reforms, and help sell it to the electorate. The electorate will not buy reforms, however much Sonia Gandhi may plead. Party veterans know this all too well.

In some respects, Congress’s situation is reminiscent of the last years of the P.V.Narasimha Rao government. Ahead of the general elections, the Narasimha Rao Congress split in North India, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, from which the party has not recovered. And the disastrous poll results indicated that “reforms” (or what passed for such) were unsellable.

Politically, Congress today is much weaker than in the mid-1990s, and making “reforms” the principal election plank will boomerang on it, with worse effects than earlier. In her speech at Surajkund, Sonia Gandhi admitted that reforms hurt people, and she called on party workers to explain this to them. She couldn’t have made a more terrible confession. Why should people seek to be hurt by voting Congress? Who wants to be hurt? Why should anyone vote for Congress after its admission to hurt them in power?

So much is Congress disconnected from people and politics that leaders like Sonia Gandhi don’t even realize the import of their statements. They often don’t know what they are saying. Surajkund, the rally in Delhi, a reshuffle where the tainted were rewarded, and reforms won’t return Congress to power.

People in power get very blind. Surajkund shows that.