IIPM Admission

Thursday, November 29, 2012

After a period of relative inactivity, Rahul Gandhi is beginning to get involved again in party matters. Pramod Kumar examines what it means in the run up to the 2014 elections

For the Nehru-Gandhis, to enter national politics and immediately establish their suzerainty is but a natural sequence of events. Contemporary Indian history, from Jawaharlal to Sonia, will willingly vouchsafe for it. Neither in the case of Indira nor Rajiv was the transition to active politics ever in any doubt.

Then what it is that is keeping Rahul Gandhi away from the family occupation? There is that something that continues to raise question marks over his leadership, indeed even his entry into national politics.

Since the disastrous UP assembly election results, these interrogatives have grown in number. Was Rahul’s entry into politics not well timed? Or did it come at a time when political conditions were adverse for the Congress?

This strange, slightly unexplained vacuum at the top has prompted a series of strategic discourses. There is one school which says the time to introduce sister Priyanka Gandhi has come – an oblique hint that the heir apparent may not have what it takes to handle the hurly-burly of Indian politics.

The other school of thought believes that like father Rajiv, Rahul will gradually mature into politics, learn the ropes and come into his own.

There is also the view that laptop experts in Rahul’s central Delhi office may know a lot about information technology but precious little about India’s political ethos. But nuances notwithstanding, central questions remains unanswered. When will Rahul reveal his magic? Could it be too late before he shows his hand? There are those like UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav who believe that Rahul should agree to a position either in the government or the party and then take it from there. Congress insiders say that Rahul could accept a super general secretary kind of position in the party. Showing due deference to party elders, Rahul had accepted the relatively humble position of general secretary; in reality he could have got anything he wanted.

But it is quite likely that this deference has been seen as a weakness by party stalwarts. The kind of statements issued by senior Congress leaders in the run up to the UP elections without Rahul ever interfering once, has given him the image of a 'soft’ leader. With his elevation as general secretary of the party’s youth wing, Rahul had hoped to develop a dedicated band of Youth Congress workers. A failed talent hunt through the states put paid to his plans.

There are many reasons being attributed to this aborted mission, the most prominent of them being that virtually every senior Congress leader wanted his son or daughter to join Rahul at the cost of dedicated party workers – with preferably a party ticket to boot!

Proof of this typical Congress skullduggery has come in Uttarakhand where Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna’s son has got the Congress ticket to contest from the Pauri Lok Sabha seat, ignoring claims of senior notables. The result of such a machination is that Rahul is having a tough time answering questions to people in his own constituency.

But party insiders say that with the Congress rout in UP and his aborted mission to develop a dedicated youth cadre, Rahul is on the introspection trail. He has adopted a lower profile than ever before and is known to ask party workers to give their complaints in writing.

It is also said about Rahul that his ability to communicate with the common worker is not as effective as it should be. Intervening with words like 'let me tell you’ or ‘let me elaborate’ just did not go down well with the electorate in UP.

But Congress leaders insist that if the Congress scion elaborated on central assistance to the state governments, there was no harm in it, considering that other Congress leaders were not doing the same. In addition, they say, that UP is a caste laboratory where it is not too easy to unravel the winning combination. If it were, the Congress would not have been out of power in the state for so long.

Some indication of this has come in the Anthony Committee report on the UP poll debacle submitted to the party high command. According to it, about 122 A-plus assembly seats personally selected by Rahul Gandhi would have yielded good dividends if senior leaders had decided not to shoot their mouths off.

Rahul’s next litmus test is going to come in Gujarat, expected to go to polls by the end of 2012. Already the Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi chorus is growing into a crescendo, with punters attaching the tag of a semi-final before the 2014 General Elections. Party insiders admit that Modi is nearly certain to return, albeit with a slimmer majority.

That leads to other problems. Party leaders fear in the eventuality of Modi coming back, knives will be out for the Congress leader sooner rather than later. In Gujarat too, the problem is the same as UP. Big party leaders have abdicated their responsibility and handed over the state to powerful opposition leaders on a platter.

The larger question is this: if the Congress fails yet again in Gujarat, could it mean a full stop to Rahul’s fledging political career? There are no clear answers. With the UPA poised to bring in legislations like the popular Food Security bill after the Gujarat elections, it is hoped that the tide will turn in its favour.

The Congress has also taken Mulayam Singh Yadav’s attempts at cobbling up a Third Front seriously. The top party leadership is loathe to lending outside support as they did in the forgettable decade of the 1990s when a slew of rank outsiders came to occupy the country’s top post with Congress’ outside support.

Nonetheless, the year-and-a-half left of Manmohan Singh’s rule is time enough for Rahul to consolidate the party’s base. There are indications that after a period of relative inactivity, Rahul is beginning to leave his imprint on the functioning of the government.

Handing over additional charge of the Railway Ministry to Rural Development Minister CP Joshi, the appointment of Nirmal Khatri as president of the UP Congress against stiff local opposition and the removal of Digvijay Singh as Congress UP observer in favour of Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, are all indictors that Rahul is beginning to flex his muscles again. There is also talk of a larger revamp in the party organisation.

Congress leaders claim the situation is not as bad as people believe. There is talk of an organisational shake up and many few faces could be thrown up from the states. "If the party works on the plans charted out by Sonia Gandhi, the results of the 2014 would come as a pleasant surprise to us,’’ says a leader. If that happens, the time for Rahul’s redemption could well have arrived.

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