Congress pushing Rahul Gandhi, but is he ready?

By: Shubham Ghosh
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Now with the presidential election a thing of the past, the Congress decides to launch its 'Mission 2014' with a message that Rahul Gandhi would take up a more active role in the party affairs. The same would have been a normal story of succession in another party, but for the Congress men loyal to a dynasty, this is some sort of a blue blood's coronation celebration. Such development is neither new in the Congress culture but yet, every occasion of an ascension is a moment to cheer for an average Congressman.

Rahul Gandhi

Predictions were always on about Rahul Gandhi's elevation in the party ranks. He was seen working at the grassroots and for the youth wing for sometime and it was just a matter of time before he joined the 'mainstream'. But the sudden desperation on behalf of the Congress to push Rahul's case reveals an alarming tendency and that is: The party has been hit by a serious leadership crisis.

The Congress, which had won the 2004 elections and wrestled power back from the BJP, was a resurgent force led by Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh and of course with the ubiquitous Pranab Mukherjee and the young Turk Rahul on the flanks.

But eight years since that victory (and another in 2009), the party is not the same force. Manmohan Singh's credibility as the PM has been dashed both in home and abroad while the other veteran, Pranab, has made its move towards becoming the President of India.

Other old king-makers like Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar are also not in the scene anymore. While Singh is already dead, Pawar has been removed from any significant position in the alliance in a calculated manner. Sonia Gandhi, too, suffering from an undisclosed ailment and could be eyeing to hand over the responsibility in a not-so-distant future.

In this situation, the only option left for Sonia Gandhi and perhaps the final hope for the 2014 polls, is her own son Rahul. History has somehow repeated itself for in 1980, following Sanjay Gandhi's sudden demise in an air crash, Indira Gandhi went for her elder son Rajiv Gandhi, with no political background at all, into the political scheme of things.

The big question is: Can he make into a political leader, someone like his great grandfather or grand mother? Will assuming that bigger role end all woes for the Congress?

We have known Rahul Gandhi as a political worker who fought his heart out in some important elections like the one in UP earlier this year. He managed to improve the party's pathetic poll results although the final results did not go his way. He has tried to explore the real India by mingling with the lower strata but it mostly went as an individual effort and not an institutionalised attempt by the party. He has spoken to bring back a democratic functioning in the party. But all this at the organisational level. In the core affairs of the party or the government's functioning, his presence could not be felt.

This is the actual concern. Is just a lack of institutionalised leadership in the party forcing Rahul to enter the 'mainstream' reluctantly? Are the party supporters thrusting the leadership on him for there is no one else?

If Rahul is actually feeling confident and has his unrevealed plans ready to lead the country, there is no reason to worry. But if he is not and the latest move by the Congress is made just out of desperation, then the future holds bleak for the party.

By whatever he has done in politics till now, Rahul Gandhi's way of politics is marked by some basic flaws and these are going to disrupt his progress at the top level.

First, Rahul Gandhi must strengthen the party's grassroot structure in a sustainable way. Just addressing rallies before polls and shaking hands with common people will not work for a long-term gain. Rahul is still be tried and tasted as a mass leader before he expects to reap benefits in the next parliamentary polls for the Congress.

Secondly, Rahul must understand that his political turf is not confined within the four corners of UP, a state where his party wielded an unparalleled authority once and now is in tatters. The good show in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls might have encouraged him more to work in the UP. But if he aims to see his party spread its wings further in the country, it is important that Rahul emphasises on what's happening in other regions of India. Karnataka and Gujarat are set to go to the polls in the next one year and Rahul Gandhi will face an acid test in these BJP-ruled states. (BJP under pressure?)

Thirdly, it seems Rahul is not much concerned with coalition politics and hence lack the managerial skills to tame non-reliable regional allies. But this is not the age of the Congress's monopoly and if Rahul does not abide by the skills of coalition politics, he will lose the game in near future.

Fourthly, to prove himself as a indispensable political leader, Rahul has to understand that charisma and a weighty surname will not help him much. He needs to chalk out a stand, an ideology --- economic or otherwise, to make his appeal to people a unique one. His predecessors like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao had all pursued an ideology, effective or non-effective, but there can not be just an idle sitting on the fence.

The young Gandhi must give a direction, whatever it is, or otherwise he will be defeated by other competing forces. Till now, Rahul has shown no spark of leadership on this count. Other young leaders like Akhilesh Yadav are also far ahead of him. (Can Rahul be the next saviour Gandhi?)

A fifth problem for Rahul Gandhi is his way of functioning. He has failed to break from the party's past and shed some of its useless baggage in terms of sycophantic followers and form a new line of leadership for the future. Akhilesh had done something on these lines in the latest UP polls and helped the party come back to power with a huge mandate.

Rahul's own 'team of politicians' has, however, not helped him achieve great heights and the young leader's lack of interest in governance till now or apparent miscalculations in vote-catching game now gives the impression that Rahul Gandhi is yet to cover some distance before he takes up a bigger role.

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