The summons issued to former prime minister Manmohan Singh to appear before a special court in connection with the allocation of coal blocks has come at an inappropriate time for the Congress.
As it is, the party is down in the dumps because of a series of poll debacles. Its tally of 44 Lok Sabha seats shows that its fortunes have never been at a lower ebb. To complicate matters, the party's temperamental vice president, Rahul Gandhi, has again shown his unpredictability by virtually disappearing from public view.
Arguably, Manmohan Singh's legal troubles may compel the Congress to rally together in his defence, as the "march" of 100-odd Congressmen led by party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Thursday showed.
But, the difficulty of such political responses is that they do not circumvent the illegalities with which Manmohan Singh is charged, along with a former coal secretary and a business tycoon, Kumar Mangalam Birla.
It is not surprising that Sonia Gandhi has jumped into the fray despite her indifferent health. There is no one else in the party who has the requisite image and calibre to take up the challenge.
However, she has only herself to blame for the present predicament. Had she allowed Manmohan Singh a free hand in 2010, when he first suspected that the telecom minister of the time, Andimuthu Raja, was not playing straight, the party wouldn't have found itself in the present situation.
Manmohan Singh, too, is responsible for his own humiliation. If he had insisted that he would not compromise with principles for the sake of saving the party, he would not have to face prosecution.
If he is indicted, the Congress is bound to face further political setbacks from which neither the absentee heir apparent nor the dowager queen may be able to rescue it.
Unfortunately, the latest case cannot but confirm the Congress's reputation for financial and political improprieties. In 1996, P.V. Narasimha Rao became involved in a case of bribing MPs to secure their support for the Congress in parliament. It was also the year when the Congress lost and remained out of power for the next eight years.
In 1987, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's name came up in what has come to be known as the Bofors howitzer scam. The adverse publicity was the reason for the Congress's defeat in 1989.
Indeed, it is this "reputation" for corruption, reinforced by the series of instances of malfeasance - the spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Adarsh housing society scam and finally, the allocation of coal blocks - which led to the upsurge of Anna Hazare's movement in 2010-11, resulting in the formation of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) with its promise of cleansing the system.
But, now that the AAP is embroiled in travails of its own, the net gainer from the Congress's decline and fall will be Narendra Modi - the man who Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were reluctant to congratulate when he won his famous victory in May 2014.
The lesson for the Congress is that temporizing tactics of the kind it adopted after its own famous victory in 2009 are politically counter-productive because they do not deceive the voters.
They first saw through them in Tamil Nadu, where Raja's sheninigans led to the Congress's and the DMK's defeats in the assembly election. Then came the series of election defeats for the Congress in assembly elections from 2013, followed by the massive drubbing in the 2014 general election.
Now, Manmohan Singh is playing the price for driving horses and carriage through the norms of morality at Sonia Gandhi's behest.