Congress president Sonia Gandhi's return to India on Thursday after an extended medical stay in the United States was, predictably, cheered by her party colleagues. But the chaos in the GOP that accompanied her absence indicates the utter bankruptcy of ideas and leadership in what was once India's foremost political institution.

Mrs Gandhi, who is also the chairperson of the ruling UPA alliance, may seem like a formidable figure in Indian politics; however, her almost stubborn resistance to create a second line of commanders within the party has made it weak. This could be her Achilles' heel. Her planned promotion of son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi as the "heir apparent" has clearly not worked as he has shown neither the leadership qualities nor the political acumen needed to run the party, leave alone the government. Sycophantic cheerleaders can make you look good at political rallies, but long-term political leadership cannot be propped up by mere yes men.

Interestingly, it is not just the Congress that was exposed by Mrs Gandhi's absence. The Congress is fortunate that its decline has coincided with the weakening of the principal Opposition party, the BJP, which has shown signs of being only a reactionary organisation rather than the visionary zeal it once showed under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. It has no clear prime ministerial frontrunner nor has it presented to the nation any comprehensive internal security policy. Indeed, status quo and political lethargy can only take you this far.

The Indian voter, therefore, has very little choice. On the one hand she has the Congress-led UPA, which has no shortage of scandals and examples of misgovernance, while on the other, there is the BJP-led Opposition that has stubbornly, and perhaps myopically, refused to provide alternatives. This is a tragedy that can only be overcome with visionary leadership. Unfortunately, neither side has the potential to do so.