Is Rahul Gandhi finally going to become the Congress President soon? His supporters want him to take over immediately while the old guard wants Sonia Gandhi to continue. She has been the Congress President since 1998, creating a record in the history of Congress. Unable to complete the organisational election process, the party extended her term by one year, which ends in December.
There are some who feel that the dual power centres of mother and son have not worked well as the workers are confused. There will be added confusion if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra enters politics.
His supporters give two reasons why Rahul should take over now. The line of succession has been clear and it is only a question of time. He has been waiting in the wings for the past 12 years since he entered politics in 2004 and became a member of Lok Sabha. He was elevated to party vice-president in January 2013.
He has been virtually functioning as the party chief since then. Almost all the party functionaries report to him directly. Moreover, Congressmen who are alarmed at the rapid decay of the party want to see some change in direction. Sonia Gandhi will have to retire sooner or later and so it makes sense for her heir to be anointed.
The second reason is that Sonia Gandhi is not keeping good health and may not be able to undertake the rigorous elections tours and other strenuous activities as the party chief. Also, she has been taking a back seat asking all those who go to her to meet Rahul Gandhi for important decisions.
However, there is no doubt that Sonia has a stature and the old timers still prefer her to Rahul Gandhi, who is seen as a reluctant leader. She has proved her mettle in the past 18 years by steering the party to power twice and failed once in 2014. When she took over in 1998, the party was on the low with people leaving the sinking ship. Her entry checked that erosion. It took more than six years to bring the party back to power and during that time she functioned as the first woman Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
It was her efforts which brought the party to power in 2004 as she went round mobilising the non-BJP secular parties in one platform by building the UPA. She also succeeded in keeping the party in power for the next ten years and ruled the country through proxy by putting Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. But the good times could not last long as Narendra Modi entered the scene as a macho Prime Minister and won the 2014 polls. Neither Sonia nor Rahul were a match to him.
Where she failed was in building the organisation, which needed a serious surgery. Unfortunately, while the mother and son duo detected the root cause of the problem, they did nothing to improve the situation. As the Congress began to lose state after state and came up with just 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, its lowest ever, the morale of the workers also reached the lowest. Rahul Gandhi’s experiments in reviving the Youth Congress and other measures came to nought. On the other hand, the fight between the old guard and the new guard has further ruined the chances of the party.
Rahul Gandhi has contested three elections successfully representing Amethi in Parliament but has missed several opportunities to prove his leadership qualities. He could have become a minister in 2004, perhaps the Prime Minister in 2009 and could have taken over the party anytime, as he has no challengers. The result is that people think he has no leadership qualities. He may be a crowd puller but not a vote catcher as has been proved in the successive polls. Bihar was an exception but that was because of the poll tie-up with the JD(U).
Many have noticed his lack of focus, lack of energy and lack of enthusiasm. He is two decades younger than Narendra Modi but no match for him. He came back after his 56 days sabbatical last year with a different persona of an angry young man. Rahul has now resorted to road shows and taking meals in Dalit’s houses changing his image. His temple visits have increased in the past two years showing a soft Hindutva line. He has paid obeisance in Kashi Vishwanath temple, Kamakhya, Badrinath and Kedarnath, Kheer Bhawani, Guru Gaddi, and now Hanuman Garhi in Ayodhya.
The Congress is now trying to appease both Hindus and Muslims. Rahul does not have the luxury of time any longer. Five states are going to polls next year and another 8 states in 2018 before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He needs to build a new team, enthuse party workers, build contacts with the allies and find more allies to strengthen the UPA. For this, the first step will be to do well in the coming UP and Punjab polls. The roadmap has been planned that Rahul will first oversee the organisational shake-up, followed by taking charge of the party. Thereafter a much needed “chintan shivir” will be held to look into the reasons for its electoral debacles and the way forward. Only time will tell whether Rahul will take over now or he will miss this opportunity once again. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)