Rahul Gandhi could be India’s strongest wild card.
The days of avoiding the centre-stage are over for Rahul Gandhi, the reluctant heir apparent of the Nehru-gandhi dynasty, which has ruled India for most of its independence years. The main reason behind this is cancer – that his mother and party leader Sonia Gandhi is detected with and one that is rapidly eating into the credibility of the Congress-led coalition government. The 41-year politician finally appears willing to assume the leadership mantle of his crisisridden party.
Having lost his father, the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, at the age of 21, RG, as Rahul Gandhi is widely know within his party, has taken his own time before deciding to plunge into politics. In 2004, he decided to contest the parliamentary election from his father’s constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh (UP). For three years, he was focused on his constituency and the politics of UP and was widely believed to be undergoing a grooming phase to take up the Congress leadership in the future. In the April–may 2007 assembly elections of the state, RG was a prominent campaigner for his party. However, he could not bring about Congress’ change of fortune in the state. Later that year, he was appointed the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), and chairperson of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and National Students Union of India (NSUI).
Since then, RG has immersed himself with party rebuilding efforts. His long term vision of Congress is of a national party full of youth, free of caste-based politics and functioning on meritocracy. His youth drives across states have succeeded in inducting several million youth members in IYC and NSUI. He initiated internal elections for posts in both the youth organisations. Apart from the youth bodies, he is extremely focused on winning back the family stronghold of Uttar Pradesh. While his party work is creating a cadre of loyalists for him, the efforts of UP paid off in the 2009 general elections when the party gained 12 more seats as compared to the 2004 results.
Although the top party leadership is making positive noises about RG being a future PM, not everyone inside the Congress party is convinced about his campaigning skills and ability to win elections. In this regard, the elections in Uttar Pradesh in early 2012 will be his litmus test. UP is the most populous state of India. If the outcome of the state election weighs heavily in Congress’ favor, his credibility as a leader will be fully established. In such an eventuality, there is a strong possibility of Sonia Gandhi installing RG as the Prime Minister of India. This would give him two years to ride Congress out of the rough weather and prepare fresh ground for the 2014 general elections. However, if Congress fails in UP, it will be a great setback not only for him but also for the party.
Doing well in UP and four other state elections scheduled to be held in 2012, is imperative for Congress if it wants to avoid an early general election that would, in all likelihood, force the party out of power. This would terribly dent Gandhi’s prospects as a leader and actually may bring his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadhera, in the picture as she is largely viewed as a natural when it comes to politics.
Thus, RG has a momentous task cut out for him – for anti-incumbency is bound to take its toll, given Congress government’s inability to check corruption, poor governance and price rise. As RG has kept mum on these issues all along, it will be harder for him to bolster his party’s credibility in popular consciousness. But as Mayawati is unlikely to repeat her remarkable performance of 2007, RG can fancy a chance to fare reasonably well in the UP assembly elections.
At one point, Rahul Gandhi’s popularity with Indian youth was very high. He was perceived as a leader capable of representing the young Indians. But his lack of enthusiasm to take up a bigger role or a major post in the government and inability to take a stand on national issues has diluted his appeal. To top that, he has been found wanting in times of crisis – Sonia Gandhi’s illness, 2G crisis, Anna Hazare’s agitation and the FDI in retail ruckus. His inability to display leadership qualities in crunch situations has negatively impacted his image within his party members and countrymen, who are all now feeling uncertain about his ability to lead them. He rarely gives interviews despite being Congress’ General Secretary, a Member of Parliament and a future PM candidate. Once a deliberate and successful ploy to generate interest, his aloofness is now working against him as common masses do not know what he stands for.
Like his father, Rahul Gandhi favors technological, educational and youth empowerment. True to his party ideology, he talks about bridging the rich-poor gap and plugging the holes from where the government money meant for the weaker sections, leak out. He wants to discard the identity politics that plague India and work for the welfare of the people. This clearly shows that RG is not only devoid of charisma characteristic to his lineage but is also devoid of a novel vision for the nation and its people.
Even his populist moves – be it going to Dalit or farmer homes in the UP or siding with tribal members in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills – are aimed at winning vote bank based on their immediate grievances rather than addressing socio-economic issues of the poor. Such stunts may give him temporary gains but in the long run a leader requires a vision about the country’s future to sustain his power. It is only through foresight of its leader that India can benefit as a nation.
Despite his shortcomings and presence of many Congress leaders who have more credentials to become the prime minister of India than Rahul Gandhi, RG benefits from his last name. With Rahul Gandhi, the question of his ability or credentials will never come into play, as in the Congress government, the PM’S seat is for him to claim as and when he wishes to. It remains to be seen if Rahul Gandhi chooses to earn his big ticket immediately as the beneficiary of his legacy or with hard work despite the possibility of a long wait. What has become clear is that the possibility of him remaining as a permanent work in progress is all but gone.