But when the applause over her performance had died down and Congressmen sat down to evaluate their gains, they found nothing substantive. They hadn't succeeded either in embarrassing the government, or in showing up cracks in the NDA. Returning empty-handed from Parliament, Congress spin doctors were reduced to contrasting Sonia's better-than-usual performance against Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's lacklustre late-night speech on August 19. The no-confidence exercise thus seems to have been intended solely to showcase Sonia and pitch her as the alternative leader to Vajpayee.
The question that naturally follows is whether Sonia can deliver the goods. Even the party's most ardent sympathisers aren't entirely sure. Though they agree that the Congress is the only viable alternative to the BJP, they acknowledge that the party faces a "credibility gap" in the voters' perception, which the no-confidence adventure did nothing to bridge. "The politics of exposé is counter-productive. The Congress doesn't need to expose the NDA's self-evident monumental follies. It needs to evolve its own strategy," says Jamia Millia Islamia's Mushirul Hasan.