- India Matters
- Dec 01 2017
At last, the confusion is over when Rahul Gandhi will take over the charge of India’s oldest political, the Indian National Congress. Party’s vice-president and three times Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi is going to be the president of the Congress in the first week of December. It is time to have a close look at the impact of this development on the national politics.
Undoubtedly, Rahul Gandhi is assuming the charge at a time when party’ political fortunes are at the lowest ebb since it was founded on December 28, 1885. Its political base has been shrinking very fast.
An electoral college is going to elect him. Most States and party organisations like the Indian Youth Congress have already passed unanimous resolutions urging him to take up the 132 years old party’s mantle. From all counts, his election would be uncontested.
The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family had entered the politics in 2004 when he was first elected to parliament from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh that has been sending Gandhis or their loyalists for many decades. Since, he has been in parliament for over 13 years.
Known as Ra Ga, Rahul Gandhi is taking over the reins of the party at a time when it is facing multifarious challenges with its credibility standing at the lowest in its political history.
He is taking over the reins of the party at a time when it is facing multifarious challenges with its credibility standing at the lowest in its political history. The Congress’ tally of 45 MPs in the Lok Sabha is the lowest. It is in power only in five states and one union territory against its main rival, the BJP, that has its governments in 18 States.
Not only the Congress’s rapport with the people at large stands at a historic low, even his own political persona does not evoke much confidence among people at large. He has been made an object of ridicule by the media, particularly by the social media. The RSS-BJP has been successful in portraying him as ‘Pappu’ -- the dumb one -- who is a total misfit to lead the Congress.
Media and his opponents both within his own party as well as outside have faulted Rahul Gandhi on three major counts. One is that he is a reluctant politician who treats party’s responsibilities as a mere job and not a full time vocation working 24 hours a day for all seven days without leaves and holidays.
Second, he did not become a minister in the UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Third, he is becoming the party chief because he belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi family, thus confirming the charge of dynastic politics.
To the first charge of being reluctant, Rahul Gandhi has been consistent in asserting that his first priority is the party and not the government, saying that if the party is politically healthy, then only it can win people’s confidence. He devoted time for the party, becoming a general secretary of the party in 2007. He took the responsibility of the youth and student wings of the party and undertook some experiments, learning in the process. This also brought him face to face with ground realities like the role of money and muscles in politics.
It is true he did not become a minister in the Congress-led government. Charge may or may not bear out a test of power-dynamics. If he, indeed, had become a minister, there is no doubt that another power centre, apart from the prime minister and his mother Sonia Gandhi, would have emerged, making the task of governance difficult and complex.
The country’s economy is in shambles. Unemployment among youth is high as newer jobs are not being created and old jobs are being lost. There is a serious stress in country’s agriculture sector with suicides of farmers being on the rise.
When he defied Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2013 by saying that the ordinance shielding convicted legislators is “nonsense” and should be torn up and thrown away, the media as well as his opponents tore him apart across the board. He was severely criticised for challenging the primacy of the Prime Minister and showing disrespect. Imagine, if he was part of the council of ministers and would have opposed one decision or the other on grounds of policy or substance.
Hauling him up on charge dynastic politics, majority of political parties are today suffering from this syndrome. In my considered view, it is the decision of the Congress party and it should be left at that. The Congress has many talented and promising leaders but none of them is acceptable to the party at large. Whether it is appreciated or not, hard though not idealistically correct, the fact is that the Congress needs the Nehru-Gandhi glue to keep it united.
Undoubtedly, so far there are very few positives to the 47-year old Gandhi’s performance in active politics despite spending 13 years, but then it has be admitted that he suffered from many handicaps also.
Herein lies the challenge to him. Is he ready to pick up the gauntlet and lead the Congress from front or not?
The timing for his elevation seems to be perfect. The political stock of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going down. Modi’s personal credibility has begun to erode as more and more people have begun to question his performance and raise doubts over his promises.
The country’s economy is facing problems. Unemployment among youth is high as newer before as jobs are not being created and old jobs are being lost. There is serious stress in country’s agriculture sector with suicides of farmers being on the rise.
Non-issues like rewriting of the country’s history, Taj Mahal controversy, love jihad, cow slaughter, building of Ram temple at Ayodhya have come to replace Modi’s developmental politics. Cracks in the Prime Minister’s Teflon image are clearly visible.
Social strife, use of violent means to settle political scores, intolerance, mutual distrust among different strata of society and fear among minorities particularly among Muslims is on the rise.
There is a general belief today that the Congress alone can take on the BJP. People are looking towards the Congress with hope. They expect the Congress to rise to the occasion to win people’s confidence.
The task for Rahul Gandhi is clear like a crystal and he has to prove himself now by taking the old and young leaders along.
Rahul Gandhi off late has been showing some promise and the narrative about him has begun to change, especially after his last US visit and the interaction at the Berkeley.
He has also started showing political maturity. By announcing incumbent chief minister of Himachal Pradesh Veerbhadra Singh to be party’s chief ministerial face in the recently held Assembly election, Rahul Gandhi has displayed political understanding. He has sent a signal that he is ready to work with the old guard and is prepared to accept the ground political reality.
In Gujarat too, where the election process is going on, he has been evoking popular response during his recent tours to the State that seems to have rattled and unnerved the BJP’s State and central leadership. Modi has visited the State four times in October alone. It is more than evident now that the Modi government had put pressure on the Election Commission to delay the dates of the assembly elections in Gujarat, reflecting the nervousness.
If the Congress is able to improve its electoral tally in Gujarat and come close to power, then the Congress will definitely come in the popular reckoning for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and also the assembly election next year. The credit for this obviously would go to Rahul Gandhi and his leadership will come to be accepted not only by his own party men and women but also by the people at large.
Relatively positive outcome of the Himachal and Gujarat assembly elections would set the stage for Rahul Gandhi to establish his credentials. But the road ahead is far more arduous and difficult. He would have to build the organization patiently stock by stock, taking the old and new leaders along.
The Congress chief-in-waiting needs to dispel the impression that he is not accessible to party workers and leaders. No doubts should be allowed to linger on that he is not a full time politician, particularly when he is the party chief.
The party under his leadership also need to offer an alternate vision to the people, that is different from the BJP’s. Some sharp edges in the party’s ideological stance need to be smoothened out, making the party acceptable to all, irrespective of caste, class or religion.
Rahul Gandhi needs to dispel the impression that he is not accessible to party workers and leaders. No doubts should be allowed to linger on that he is not a full time politician, particularly when he is the party chief. The party, under his leadership, also needs to offer an alternate vision to the people that is different from the BJP.
Assessing the party’s strengths and weaknesses, the young Gandhi in his new role would have to steer the party’s course on coalition politics. The new Congress chief would have to display resilience and understanding that he can take like-minded political parties along and is ready to share power.
The task before him is huge but not impossible too.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).