The reluctant prince finally takes charge of the Grand ol’ Party. Can he pull the Congress out of the abyss it finds itself in?
Will he, won’t he? After keeping the Congress as well as the country guessing for the past 13 years, Rahul Gandhi finally put that uncertainty to rest on December 4. He will now become the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to take charge of the 132-year-old Grand Old Party of India.
On paper, at least, the Nehru-Gandhi scion is well-placed to lead the party: at 47, he has interned under his mother, Sonia Gandhi, for 13 years, four years as No. 2 in the organisation. Sonia herself was a political novice when she became Congress president at 52; father Rajiv was younger at 41 when he was forced to take charge of the country and the Congress after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi in 1984.
However, Rahul inherits the Congress mantle at a time when the party is plumbing the depths of political fortunes. It has a miserable 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, its vote share having plummeted to a historic 19.5 per cent low in 2014. In the past three years, the Congress has faced defeat or failed to make any impact in 15 assembly elections, and in the process lost several of its strongholds such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam and Kerala. Currently, it is in power in just eight of India’s 29 states, retaining a mere 766 seats in the 4,120 assembly constituencies across the country. Congress-mukt Bharat has never seemed a more distinct possibility.
Until recently, Rahul himself had not done much to inspire confidence. Despite choosing the electoral route to the top post in the party, there is little he can do to shake off the tag of an entitled dynast, something the BJP never misses a chance to bring up against him, whether it is party president Amit Shah calling him ‘shehzada’ or Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing his current ascension as the beginning of ‘Aurangzeb raj’. His sudden, prolonged absences, string of public gaffes and indecisiveness have only helped the BJP’s social media machine establish him as a ‘Pappu’ in public perception. He is accused of being inconsistent, and lacking any political or economic vision, leading Union AFTER RESISTING IT FOR 13 YEARS,
OF THE CONGRESS. CAN HE REVIVE THE STRANDED PARTY?