Rahul Gandhi is 43, and the Congressmen have been saying for a while that he is all grown up and ready to venture forth. Just a year ago, in January 2013, he took on the mantle of vice-president of the Congress party amidst a tearful, emotional drama at Jaipur. Now, he’s poised to take another step forward to becoming the face around whom the Congress campaign for the 2014 general elections will be fought, though not quite the prime ministerial candidate outright. But a few questions remain. Does Rahul have it in him to represent anything more than the idea of dynasty that the Congress is so dependent on? Also, was the plan to name him the PM candidate abandoned in the teeth of strong political currents?
Rahul became a Lok Sabha MP at 33 and in the decade since has been engaged in his very own discovery of India and his inner world. A year ago, he spoke of balance and the need to avoid power “that is actually a poison”. Unlike his great grandfather, he does not have the talent to write wonderful prose about such inner journeys or outward discoveries. What we do know is that this is not a good moment for the Congress that has so defined India’s history. Instead of an author-backed ‘Son-rise’, powerful currents could actually rescript 2014 as a son-set year.
There would always exist a poignant, tragic air around Rahul, whose personal life has been so marked by the brutal assassinations of his grandmother and father. He has always seemed to be a man trapped by his destiny—the fortunes of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Even though he has famously supped in Dalit homes and tried to link himself, though not quite convincingly, to causes related to tribals and people resisting land acquisition, the young crop of leaders closest to him are also the well-heeled children of other senior politicians.
What some others had achieved around Rahul Gandhi’s age
It is human nature, after all, to seek out similar people. Thus, Jyotiraditya Scindia became the CM candidate in Madhya Pradesh; now, Sachin Pilot has been made PCC chief in Rajasthan. And after the defeat in MP, 39-year-old Arun Yadav, son of party veteran Subhash Yadav (who too had been PCC president), was made PCC chief there. All this is being seen as part of a generational change—certainly, the relative youth in charge of some key positions is undeniable.
The idea of generational change occupies a central position in the world according to Rahul Gandhi. After he became general secretary in 2007, he spent over five years trying to democratise the stagnant Youth Congress. At its core, the idea was sound, yet ultimately Rahul was up against entrenched interests in the party, and a support base not driven by any ideology. Without any ideological pull, only charismatic and driven leadership can inspire youth. Yet, Rahul has often appeared to be a part-time politician.
As he heads towards 2014, Rahul will more than ever be at the mercy of regional players. Mayawati, bouncing back to prominence after the continuing disaster of the Akhilesh government, has so far spurned all Congress overtures for a pre-poll alliance. For many regional parties, the national party must appear to be a liability. In Bihar, however, the three-cornered contest does make the Congress a useful add-on to the alliances Laloo Prasad Yadav and CM Nitish Kumar are both trying to tie up. Sources say the party will probably go with the RJD chief, as he is one of the critical poles of the secular political discourse.
All these calculations are being made even as party leaders admit they could be headed for a disaster. Congressmen put up a good defence when they say they won’t slide under 100 seats, as is being touted. Privately, some peg it around 80. In such a scenario, whether Rahul is the PM candidate or not is not really relevant. What would be politically more important is the manner in which the Congress starts negotiating with regional forces. One of the more likely outcomes of the next election is likely to be a completely hung Parliament, where parties will group together. If their numbers are dismal, Congress could be the tail of such a formation. At this stage, it seems unlikely they could be the centre of one.
Where does that leave Rahul Gandhi, the man who tried in spurts and starts but never seemed to plunge into the hurly-burly of politics with gusto? He has of late expressed admiration for Arvind Kejriwal and some of AAP’s policies and tactics. He also has the habit of speaking like the outsider to the system.
It is often said that to the human psyche, the grass always appears a little greener on the other side. Born to privilege and encircled by family history, to Rahul the idea of slumming it out in Dalit bastis, or storming Delhi as someone outside the system, a brilliant maverick, must appear appealing.
Ironically, Rahul is the face of the system. And this time round he must enter the forthcoming race as the underdog on whom no one will bet any money. So low does his stock ride on the bourse that the media now places him at third spot below the CMs of Gujarat and Delhi in popularity. If Kejriwal has become the symbol of ordinary people, Modi too is marketed by many as the face of a resurgent nation, an enabler for growth.
What does Rahul stand for? There is no message to back the image. Not a success on his own steam, he is known as the son of Sonia, the grandson of Indira. That is why he will continue to get many chances in the typical Congress belief that it is just a matter of biding time before the wheel turns full circle and a member of the first family must wield power yet again.
It is unfortunate that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has not understood Indian politics despite swimming in it since 2004 (Cold Comfort Form, Jan 27). The chief ministers of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have subverted his efforts against corruption: at least this should teach Rahul that not every problem (of the many plaguing the Congress) will resolve itself by his making a public uproar about it. And it’s unlikely that Priyanka Vadra will be able to effect the sort of turnaround that the Congress needs.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
Is the fact that there was not a single critical reference to Modi in this piece a sign of the way the wind is blowing?
Cdr Arun Visvanathan, Chennai
The younger generation seeks a dynamic prime minister who will bring about economic progress in all the states of the country. Rahul Gandhi is young and seems to fit that bill. But his Congress party has lost credibility with the common man and the middle class: its faulty policies led to inflation, corruption, scams, red-tapism and the resurgence of sharp-edged caste- and region-based politics. Preparing for the 2014 elections, the Congress would do well to accept that the dynasty effect is waning. My prediction: a khichdi government, the result of the Congress losing and the bjp not having the numbers to form government.
Mahesh Kumar, on e-mail
Outlook must not undermine the underdog: Rahul is simple and sincere and has great potential, never mind the one handicap that he belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
V.N.K. Murti, Pattambi
Rahul Gandhi stopped in front of AAP office and asked its members to join Congress.
Passing the news with no comments. I am speechless.
It must have been really bad for Rahul that even Saba has given up any hopes. Thankfully for him, there are still few people like V.N.K.Murti Pattambi who has x ray vision to see his unseen unproven potential.
At long last, even Saba and Anwaar have given up on Rahul.
Now is the time. If you are a contrarian, you can bet on a penny stock.
With the possibility of a hung parliament emerging even more real, especially after AAP started sharing the pie of anti-incumbancy votes, you never know who would be the strange bed fellows and who would the Congressparty loyalist Pranab-da choose for forming the government.
After all we got a Dev Gauda from such strange turn of events.
So all the RaGa fans :
Lungi dance..Lungi dance..Lungi Dance
Why can't RG be a beneiciary in a similar manner?
Seeing Kapil Sibal in a Gandhi cap reminds one of an old Panchtantra saying which narrates a wolf who hides itself in a sheep's skin and head but eats all in the herd one by one. The morale is "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" as also revealed in the New Testament.
On the economic front, the congress has botched everything. The GDP is limping. It would have been so easy to grow the economy at better than 10% per year if deficits could have been larger? People seem to shun deficits based on its name and not its meaning.
People can sympathies but the mistake is Congress's.
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