Millennium Post

‘I will play a more proactive role’

Flanked by parliamentary affairs, minister Pawan Bansal and MOS Rajiv Shukla, Rahul Gandhi came to the Central Hall of parliament last week to write his comments on the register kept on a stand to pay tribute to outgoing president Pratibha Patil. Only a handful of ex-MPs and myself – a journalist – were present on the occasion. As he turned back we confronted him. As he shook hands with me, I gave him a mini-lecture.

‘One need not feel disheartened at the set back at recent UP assembly elections. Though the Congress could not come up to expectations, there have been gains. He has taken a big step towards revival of the party in the most populous state of the union and results will be forthcoming in the course of time. If you plant a sapping, don’t expect it to bear fruits next day. Let the plant grow first and one needs to nurture it by watering it every day and, in the course of time, it will bear fruits’.

Rahul seems to agree with me and assured me the plant will not be allowed to wither away. Also, he indicated that he will assume more pro-active role in the organisation. Within days came the announcement, on the day when votes were cast in the presidential election: ‘I will play a more pro-active role in the party and the government. The timing is up to my two bosses — the Congress president and the prime minister. The fact is that Rahul, by virtue of being Gandhi scion, enjoys much greater power and influence than his formal designations as Congress general secretary and Lok Sabha MP. Therefore, giving him an official position that corresponds to the power he actually wields is a desirable thing to do. Because formal positions carry formal responsibilities and it is always good to have responsibility where there is authority.

Sources close to Rahul say he would take up more responsibilities in the party and not enter the portals of power in the government as speculated in a section of the press. By September, the month that will coincide with the end of monsoon session of parliament, Rahul may be appointed working president of the Congress as was veteran Kamlapati Tripathi or vice-president, a responsibility Rajiv Gandhi gave to Arjun Singh. He could also be made secretary-general, a position given by Indira Gandhi to H N Bahuguna. Whatever designation he may be given, Rahul will be the party boss and vital decisions will have his imprint.

Also by September, battles for the Gujarat elections would have been drawn and the Congress needs to gird up its lions to take on chief minister Narendra Modi. Reports emanating from Ahmedabad say Modi is not comfortably placed in the coming elections and if the Congress organises polls properly, Modi may even be ousted. This will be Rahul’s first challenge as the Congress party’s supremo and a success will enable the party to project him as its prime ministerial candidate in the run up to 2014 general elections.  On his part, Modi is convinced of his invincibility because of successive electoral victories and the support of many corporate houses. He forced the ouster of his RSS bête noir Sanjay Joshi. The circumstances in which the patch-up between Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, Nitin Gadkari, took place reveal the party’s absolute dependence on him, even if several second generation leaders privately talk of what they call his [Modi’s] arrogance.

In the eight years since he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Amethi, Rahul has shown a lot of political promise but little else. As a leader of the new generation in the Nehru-Gandhi lineage, he was expected to play a prominent role, first in the party, and later, in the government.

The talk of Rahul joining the government has surprised insiders. The unsettled nature of United Progressive Alliance-II, reinforced by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) revolt barely after Trinamool Congress softened its hostility makes it risky for Rahul to join government and, inevitably, be seen as its mascot.

Though unlikely, still if he joins UPA-II, sources say, he prefers a portfolio that would identify him with either welfare programmes or with youth. Rahul was credited with nudging UPA-I over social schemes like MGNREGA, which was part of a larger script to give him an aam aadmi face.

Expectations are high from Rahul since he is being projected for the prime minister’s post. Age is on his side. More than half the population of the country is below 25 now, which cannot relate to senior citizens clinging to positions of power. The youth is impatient with the system that failed to deliver, with rampant corruption and with missed opportunities. A younger team under Rahul can ignite hope for change. [IPA]
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