(As Rahul Gandhi takes over as the Congress president, The Quint debates whether the Gandhi scion will be able to pull the Congress out of the woods. This is the Counterview. You may like to read the View by Rasheed Kidwai here.)
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The Congress has a reason to look forward to the expected elevation of Rahul Gandhi, its current vice-president and son of Sonia Gandhi, the incumbent president. He is relatively young. Of late, he has a few smart tweets and couple of punchlines to his credit.
Also, these days, he is seen more often in the country and not on vacation abroad. But apart from all other things, for Congressmen, hopes are coming hand-in-hand with him since many perceive that perhaps he alone can help the sinking ship of the GOP float. The only reason behind this hope is that he belongs to the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.
But is he the real answer to the mounting challenges being faced by the Congress? Exploring this brings one face-to-face with questions that have no substantial and convincing answers. The series of questions starts with his once much talked about and now practically abandoned project of internal democracy and the system of primaries for organisational elections.
Perpetuating Dynastic Rule?
Has Rahul Gandhi reached a conclusion that it can’t just be tried in his party? How exactly was the project sabotaged? Who were against it? Was it really opposed by few or was the party leadership itself reluctant? If so, why?
One can ignore the issues raised by a small-time TV panelist of the Congress, Shehzad Poonawala, as the party appears to have apparently disowned him, but one must know what exactly is Rahul Gandhi’s idea of internal democracy.
If he is so passionate about internal democracy, how can he defend his own elevation? Unless these questions are convincingly responded to, Rahul’s elevation is bound to evoke criticism that it’s an attempt to perpetuate dynastic rule in the party.
But even if one decides to forget this inheritance of political-power, Rahul’s elevation is unlikely to have any impact on the big picture of Indian polity today. And there are at least three significant factors that are responsible for this situation.
First, there is an air of unspoken, unarticulated reluctance around Rahul’s taking over the reins. Some say he has always been reluctant to take the top position. Others say that it is not Rahul but a section of senior leaders who are reluctant to have him as their president. Whatever may be the case, during the last 13 years after his entry into the Lok Sabha, he has not come across as a serious political leader.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that he is ready to lead from the front, work hard, skip vacations, travel across the length and breadth of the country and thereby command an essential grip over his party organisation. His actions have been more exhibitionist in character than out of real concern. Remember Chandravati , the widow of the Yavatmal farmer who committed suicide? Years after Rahul Gandhi met her, she continues to be in the wilderness, notwithstanding the fact that his own party was ruling the state for long.
More importantly, what solutions does Rahul have to offer for our decades-old agrarian crises? Similarly, doesn’t he realise that his temple visits recently in Gujarat and the much-ridiculed defence claiming that he is a janeu dhari Hindu are showing him in poor light? From ‘janeu todo’ of Jayprakash Narayan – also a Congressman once – to ‘janeu (se) jodo’, the Congress really has come a long way. In the process, the party is failing to attract traditional Hindus as they continue to be skeptical, and those claiming to be progressive as they are furious.
Secondly, Rahul lacks experience. Consider the example of non-dynastic parties and their leadership to understand how these leaders have evolved from the grassroots through mentoring, exposure and an ability as well as desire to learn. From ‘aloo ki factory’ to ‘questions to the answers’, Rahul is scoring self-goals repeatedly as there appears a dearth of desire to learn and do flawless homework.
He should have realised that presidentship may come without applying much effort, but invaluable learnings cannot. Beyond symbolic actions such as lunch at a Dalit house and staying in a tribal hut, he has to go the extra mile to actually understand and not simply appear to understand.
Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, to rule a catch-all party like Congress and that too in 2017 is easier said than done. Already there are murmurs from among the old guard who would be reluctant to work under Rahul and his confidants. Besides, unlike Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul will have to practically earn authentic leadership. Apart from nurturing leadership qualities, Indira was lucky to have all discredited leaders around to compete with, and a fairly intact party organisation to rule over.
For Rajiv Gandhi, it was relatively easy to get the endorsement from a virtually headless party organisation traumatised after the sudden departure of their leader from the scene. In Rahul’s case, he has to start from scratch. The state of the party organisation is many times poorer than during the ascendance of Mrs Gandhi, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. Also, there is no evidence to suggest that RaGa is able to motivate the middle-rung leaders as well as party cadres effectively. Add to this the general lack of acceptance to dynastic leadership amongst India’s GenNext and the task becomes all the more daunting.
All in all, Rahul Gandhi’s Presidentship poses much less a challenge for other parties than for his own Party – the Congress Party itself – and more than that to himself as well. It is easy to head the Party, harder to own it!
(Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is a Member of Parliament representing Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha. He is also the serving national vice president of Bharatiya Janata Party. He can be reached @vinay1011. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)