What’s in a Name?

The re­cently ap­pointed Vice Pres­i­dent of the In­dia Na­tional Congress, Rahul Gandhi, is ready to en­ter In­dian pol­i­tics full-time. But will he need some­thing more than just the name of the Gandhi dy­nasty to en­sure smooth-sail­ing?

Southasia - - Contents - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

En­ter­ing pol­i­tics full-time, does Rahul Gandhi have what it takes to make an im­pres­sion?

Rahul Gandhi’s ap­point­ment as Vice Pres­i­dent of the In­dian Na­tional Congress is likely to have a per­cep­ti­ble im­pact on na­tional pol­i­tics and the next Lok Sabha elec­tions. In the largest democ­racy of the world, it stands proven that there is no es­cape from ‘dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics’ and hered­i­tary suc­ces­sions in rul­ing par­ties are in­evitable. Ac­cord­ing to the Congress, this el­e­va­tion is part of a move to bring younger politi­cians into the party ahead of the gen­eral elec­tions in 2014. In Oc­to­ber 2012, Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh in­ducted 22 new min­is­ters into the government but Rahul re­fused to join the Cab­i­net.

Com­ment­ing on the move, Soutik Biswas, BBC cor­re­spon­dent in New Delhi, ob­served, “In­dia’s gov­ern­ments have been tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by el­derly politi­cians, prompt­ing crit­ics to jest that the coun­try, where half the pop­u­la­tion is un­der 25 years of age, is really a geron­toc­racy.” Jus­ti­fy­ing the move, Man­mo­han Singh said he had

tried to put to­gether a com­bi­na­tion of “youth and ex­pe­ri­ence” in the new Cab­i­net to take on the for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges in the run-up to the gen­eral elec­tions due in 2014.

Ac­cord­ing to crit­ics, the Cab­i­net is only slightly younger than the pre­vi­ous one. Its old­est mem­ber is Mr. Singh him­self, at 80, while the youngest mem­ber is ju­nior min­is­ter, Sachin Pi­lot, 35. The av­er­age age of a full cab­i­net min­is­ter re­mains a lit­tle over 64 years, though the av­er­age age of a min­is­ter is now 58. In the wake of Rahul’s po­lit­i­cal el­e­va­tion, ques­tions per­tain­ing to his per­ceived role in pol­i­tics arise: will he be a gamechanger, what long-term ef­fects will his en­try have on the In­dian po­lit­i­cal land­scape and can he di­lute the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi af­ter the lat­ter’s thump­ing vic­tory? Dif­fi­cult chal­lenges lie ahead for Rahul Gandhi and the INC as nine states will hold as­sem­bly polls this year with the big bat­tle of the next Lok Sabha elec­tions tak­ing place in 2014. Th­ese ear­lier polls will test Gandhi’s lead­er­ship skills as he heads the co­or­di­na­tion panel for the 2014 polls.

In a state­ment is­sued on 4 Fe­bru­ary 2013, fol­low­ing a three-day “feed­back-cum-in­ter­ac­tion” ses­sion in New Delhi, Rahul stated, “The party should ad­dress ba­sic prob­lems first to face fu­ture po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges and it would be stronger only if its con­sti­tu­tion is im­ple­mented in let­ter and spirit.” This par­tic­u­lar state­ment, is­sued af­ter his first for­mal in­ter­ac­tion with the All In­dia Congress Com­mit­tee (AICC) con­firms that he is poised to play a lead role in all fu­ture mat­ters af­ter his mother, So­nia Gandhi with­draws from ac­tive party de­lib­er­a­tions. Rahul also met with party gen­eral sec­re­taries in charge of states who cited prob­lems faced by the party, such as faulty ticket distri­bu­tion, lack of unity and dis­ci­pline and mem­ber­ship is­sues.

Rahul is all set to ad­dress the pre­vail­ing state of party af­fairs that would help him fi­nal­ize the much-awaited Congress reshuf­fle to pre­pare his team for the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions. Dur- ing the in­ter­ac­tions, some sec­re­taries crit­i­cized the func­tion­ing of gen­eral sec­re­taries and state unit chiefs while com­plain­ing that the min­is­ters never meet them. Many of them de­manded “re­spon­si­bil­ity with accountability”, claim­ing that the party needed an im­me­di­ate over­haul. Rahul’s re­sponse has been cau­tious, “There is no need to rush with the change, we need to cor­rect ba­sic prob­lems and fol­low the rules.” He specif­i­cally urged party lead­ers to re­frain from bring­ing up per­sonal griev­ances and con­cen­trate on the party’s con­sti­tu­tion. This doc­u­ment, he said, “is a model one, crafted af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion and re­flec­tion and it is an im­age of the Congress which has been rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple for the past 127 years. We should be proud to be Congress work­ers.”

There is a strong hope in the Congress that Rahul would bring nec­es­sary or­ga­ni­za­tional changes. He is ca­pa­ble of cap­tur­ing the as­pi­ra­tions of the In­dian youth, es­pe­cially those be­long­ing to the ur­ban mid­dle class. Rahul en­joys an im­age of a com­pas­sion­ate and gen­tle leader but the ques­tion is whether his ap­point­ment on 19 Jan­uary 2013 as Vice Pres­i­dent will her­ald vic­tory for the party in the 2014 elec­tions, es­pe­cially at a time when the Congress Government faces strong crit­i­cism from op­po­si­tion par­ties and civil so­ci­ety, on var­i­ous is­sues of cor­rup­tion, in­vest­ment and so­cio-eco­nomic con­cerns.

Rahul has as­sumed his new po­si­tion at a tough time when the party, af­ter nearly four decades of vir­tu­ally un­in­ter­rupted rule, tries to find its way back from its po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness. Many be­lieve the scion of the Gandhi fam­ily pos­sesses the qual­i­ties, in­stincts and ex­pe­ri­ence to take up the man­tle of the post of Prime Min­is­ter. The young Gandhi cer­tainly has po­ten­tial but it re­mains un­cer­tain whether he will be­come the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia in 2014? The re­cent changes in Congress in no way rep­re­sent any­thing rad­i­cal as lead­ing colum­nist, Pratap Bhanu Me­hta says, “In­stead, it is an odd com­bi­na­tion of cau­tion, brazen­ness and po­lit­i­cal tri­fling.” Most of the so-called young min­is­ters are priv­i­leged dy­nasts who never dis­played much po­lit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion or ad­min­is­tra­tive acu­men in the past. Is Rahul Gandhi dif­fer­ent? He is cer­tainly not like his late fa­ther, Ra­jiv Gandhi who as­sumed party lead­er­ship due to the force of cir­cum­stances. Rahul in­stead has earned his po­si­tion, both in pol­i­tics and party af­ter sev­eral years of work, though he has yet to prove him­self a vote-mag­net for the party.

At present, Congress’ main ri­val, the Bhar­tiya Janata party (BJP), is in the dol­drums but many claim that Rahul’s el­e­va­tion may serve as an im­pe­tus for Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi to as­sume a more em­phatic role be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tions. With a hat­trick of wins in the State, Modi, 62, is seen as more of a youth icon than Rahul Gandhi. Elec­tions in In­dia are com­plex puzzles: fac­tors like caste, al­lies, sec­u­lar­ism, com­mu­nal­ism etc play a dom­i­nant role. In­di­ans are ask­ing each other who they think would be tri­umphant if it is Modi vs. Gandhi in 2014? Rahul, not­with­stand­ing the great Gandhi sur­name, will have to prove that he en­joys pan-na­tional ap­peal sur­pass­ing the ur­ban mid­dle-classes. In a coali­tion era, it will then de­pend on which al­liance will tri­umph—United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance or Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance.

Rahul has shown po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity by not join­ing the government—he un­der­stands that re­vi­tal­iz­ing the party is more im­por­tant at this moment. He un­der­stands the grow­ing as­pi­ra­tions of the In­dian peo­ple, es­pe­cially the youth. Un­doubt­edly, Rahul Gandhi is an emerg­ing young leader af­ter the old and queried politi­cians have failed to de­liver. His success de­pends how the party, he now steers, wins back the con­fi­dence of the vot­ers.

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