Whither Rahul Gandhi ?
Rahul Gandhi is a unique character in Indian politics. He often reminds of a chief without a fighting force. A lone ranger, he is trying to make his way, where all roads seem to be in a blocked mode. He is trying to navigate valiantly but without much success. He is the beneficiary of the leadership of one of the world's oldest political party- Indian National Congress. His mother is the current President of the Congress party and every one knows that it is a matter of time before he is anointed as its next President. However nothing seems to be going the smooth way for either Rahul or the party.
Rahul Gandhi is the son of Rajiv Gandhi, the grandson of the formidable Indira Gandhi and the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, all three of them became prime ministers of India and the latter two died in office. Between them they held the PM's post for about four decades and helped shaped India's destiny in a very significant way. Their hold on the masses was considerable. The Congress party which fought for India's freedom gradually became their family organization. The democratic Nehru's heirs became a political dynasty. The broad based Congress party at the time of India's independence has over the decades become a family owned or ruled fiefdom. Rahul is its latest member ready to inherit the mantle of the party's leadership. However this act of passing the baton from the mother to the son gets being postponed since a few years and has been once again differed till next year. It clearly indicates that the going is not all that smooth for Rahul to take over.
The Challenge :
Young Indians seem to be moving away from dynastic politics. At least that is the impression one gets while judging the dismal performance of the Congress party in the 2014 elections and thereafter. It was a strong reason, though corruption in the UPA coalition was perhaps the most compelling reasons why voters voted against Congress. The present ruling dispensation is led by a very strong charismatic leader who is everything that Rahul isn't.
The 5' 7" Rahul is born in 1970 and entered politics in 2004 and since then is the MP from his late father's constituency Amethi. His sister Priyanka comes out to campaign only for him and mother Sonia Gandhi. Rahul comes out as a shy, reluctant, average speaker possessing limited vocabulary, mild mannered who seems all the time to be trying and trying and has yet to taste success. Modi comes out as an willing, aggressive, effective orator with a brilliant vocabulary, who has tasted success and is hungry for more.
A distinct feature of Rahul's style is that he goes into frequent hibernations every few weeks. Then suddenly parachutes at a few places, makes a few statements only to vanish again from the public view. This does not enable him to build a bond with his dwindling party's supporters. I do not think he has ever been arrested for leading a procession or has come on the streets to enthuse his party workers. His protected style therefore comes out as arm chair style of politics. Led from closed rooms.
When pitched against a hands down aggressive leader of the ruling party, this withdrawn style of leadership is bound to fail because it suffers tremendously by comparison and content. Like in golf, many would give him a handicap provided he was seen trying hard. There seems to be some force holding him back from going all out. The Congress is at its nadir in its history and is also on verge of being reduced to a state of vegetative existence. At such times the quality of leadership should be superlative. But what is the party offering Rahul Gandhi or what is he expecting from them.
It is now coming out that Rahul's leadership is being resented by established and well entrenched senior Congress leaders well past the age of sixty years. Congress in fact has too many of these ageless leaders. They would be uncomfortable with Rahul at the helm and would in fact stand ignored. They could form a bloc of disgruntled leaders whose nuisance vale could be damaging to the party. The emerging scenario is akin to the time Indira Gandhi found herself being cornered by veteran Congress leaders led by the octogenarian Morarjee Desai in thelate 1960's. Her ststure could see her through but not before she split the Congress into two and in the process isolated the veterans. She then led the Congress and remained its undisputed leader for nearly sixteen years.
Can Rahul repeat Indira's feat? Looks extremely doubtful mainly because Rahul lacks the charisma and skill of Indira. It is going to be a long drawn battle before Rahul can aspire to become the leader of the party. The passage will be rough and many side battles will be fought openly or covertly. It can be reasonably assumed that the younger lot will go with Rahul and the elder lot will want Sonia to continue as long as possible. No one wants to lose power at any age, more so in politics.
This uncertainty is telling on Rahul. He is not able to emerge as a full time leader and in fazt is seen as a part time leader. He appears and vanishes like comets. The visibility is momentary and impact is also lost. When he is not sure of cooperation from senior leaders he is not able to take initiative. In the process his image is not getting established. BJP and especially Modi have encashed this aspect to the fullest and have succeeded in portraying him as a novice in politics who is surviving because of dynasty. The more time Rahul takes to exert himself the more this image will get strengthened.
The internal resistance within the Congress will continue as that is the nature of politicians, but strong leaders can overcome it. However the Congress is in a very weak position and unless it wins in some states of significance Rahul will not be in a position to exert himself. He has to show victories to raise his stature and uplift his image. It is easier said than done. Modi and BJP are not going to make it easy for him.
Rahul has to be pro active if he wants to take over the leadership of the Congress. He must fight for it and win it. It will boost his image as a go getter and show him as a decisive person. This will teach him how to plan, identify persons. make strategies and counter moves and above all take tough decisions. After all one whom the party wants to project as a future PM cannot be a goody goody person. He has to learn to survive in the cut throat of Indian politics. He does not have to look far. He can learn many lessons from the one who ridicules him the most.
The Congress party is at crossroads today. It is at its lowest ebb in its history. It is led by a person who was a reluctant politician. How long can she lead. The next generation has to move in. Because it is a dynasty led party it is going to be Rahul by present indications. He therefore has to show grit and accept the post sooner than later. Or Priyanka is not too far of and Modi could be in for a long haul. Rahul has to lead upfront now or never.
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