Rahul Gandhi: Congress Party Needs an Icon


Rahul Gandhi

       

New Delhi, Nov 5:Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh on Friday gave clear indication that  Rahul Gandhi may be asked to take over the reins of the party soon as working president.

“Rahul has to come in the mainstream. Right now he is looking only after Youth Congress and the student wing of the party. I feel now he has to look after us all,” Digvijay Singh told reporters

ON BOARD PM’s AIRCRAFT: With expectation mounting that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will soon take up more active responsibilities in the party, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he will welcome any new responsibility given to Rahul.

Reacting to questions about reports that Gandhi’s responsibilities might be enhanced and he could be designated “working president”, the PM said “This is a party matter and I can’t say about it…But if Rahul Gandhi is given any new responsibility, I will certainly welcome it.”

Rahul Gandhi (1970), son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi made his entry into politics by announcing that he would contest the May 2004 elections, standing for his father’s former constituency of Amehti in UP . Earlier Sanjay Gandhi had had been elected from that constituency. Subsequently the seat had been held by his mother until she transferred to the neighboring constituency of Rae Bareilly.

         “At the time, this move generated surprise among political commentators, who had regarded his sister Priyanka as being the more charismatic and likely to succeed. Party officials did not have a CV ready for the media; such was the surprise of his move. He won with a landslide majority, retaining the family stronghold with a margin of over 100,000 as the Congress unexpectedly defeated the ruling BJP.” 

        Later Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra Gandhi managed their mother’s campaign for reelection in 2006, which was won with a margin of over 400,000 votesRahul was in the high profile Congress campaign for the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections; Congress, however, won only 22 seats with 8.53% of votes 

        Congress Party Needs an Icon  Sonia Gandhi  literally lifted congress by its boot straps and with an astuteness (which was not expected from her) managed coalitions across the board and ensured that BJP which was crowing from the roof tops about a ’shining India’ was left biting the dust. She managed to reinvigorate the party which had seen better days, through intensive campaigning. She had shown that she was one tough customer. 

       Her popularity graph soared beyond the chart when she refused to accept the post of prime minister. Congress literally had its cake and could eat it too. It had a leader who could win elections for it and still be not power hungry. An unprecedented occurrence in the arena of Indian party politics.

       With all the positive traits Sonia has shown in inducing life in to the party  Congress would still like its icon to be an ‘Indian” who cannot be sniped at continuously as  being of foreign origin. It wants to live down its image of being  an aggregate of ageing power hungry satraps constantly at each other’s throats who need an ‘outsider’ to sort out their problems.

       The satraps themselves would like a figure on the top who is not awesome in terms s of experience, have an independent public face with ability to reach directly to the masses , or worse still  ability to out maneuver them and  function independently.

          An inexperienced Rahul naïve and simple would be more approachable and amenable. Remember the case of his father Rajiv who came in equally inexperienced and naïve with great ideas of what India should be, and how congress should function as a benefactor of the people. He was keen to alleviate the misery of the common man and take the administration even to the door of the poorest villager rotting far away from the capital.

       Rajiv was blocked and stymied at every positive step that he took by the old guard and ultimately paid the price. He was virtually hounded out. Congress went out of office and had he not been martyred Congress would never have made it back to form a government albeit a coalition one under Narasimha Rao. 

         Younger elements in the party see in Rahul an opportunity to grow beyond the shadows of an ageing set of leaders who for long have enjoyed the fruits of office. The young men and women would like some power to trickle down to them for their own work at the grass roots. An odd Pilot or Scindia who has made it to the middle level of hierarchy has done so in the name of their parents.

       To quote a senior Congress office bearer and member of the coterie working for Sonia as told to rediff.com, “Rahul Gandhi is talking sense, as there are a large number of leaders in Congress who have money, muscle and political power owing to their closeness to 10, Jan path (Congress chief’s residence). But, if these senior and powerful leaders stand in an election, their win is uncertain because Congress does not have cadre working round the year. Congress cadre works only when the party is in power.”

          The senior Congressman explained further, “The opposite is also true. Even if you have loyal following at the block level and are popular in your district but if you can’t get a ticket to fight an election, you are nobody in the party. Rahul Gandhi is trying to build the cadre of Congress as the BJP and Left parties have.”

        [1]Congress has closed around him protectively. He is the recipient of adulation and given all possible encouragement. His actions are proclaimed and woe betides any one who dares to say a word against him. Heavy handed measures have been taken to prevent damage to his image. Handling of the Newsweek article in 2006 is an example.  

      Priyanka Vadra Gandhi was a relentless canvasser for her mother and was expected to take the mantle of her formidable grandmother. She appears to have gone into temporary hibernation. For family reasons we are told. She has experience of party politics and canvassing and could  advice Rahul from time to time. May be she will come out of the closet one day and stand beside her mother and brother.

        Other Political Parties see in Rahul, an opponent who with time and experience may well flower in to the icon Congress is looking for. Under his mother’s tutelage, Rahul has already tasted blood in the election campaigns in 2004, 06, and 07.

        He has committed  his share of gaffes and errors but none that are remembered by voters. His poor grades in the UP election have been have been put down to inexperience and absence of an effective middle level leadership in UP, coupled with fading away of grass roots workers. BSP’s victory is attributed to casteist politics, a level to which Congress will not descend. Gujarat was a foregone case.

        The last few months have seen the young scion of Gandhi family, actively moving from location to location entering the huts of the most wretched, playing with children of the poor and also talking of democracy in his own party. PR is being handled by media professionals and the splash of photo op sessions are there, staring in your face every day. This is considered to be a threat (which it is) to their propaganda of Rahul being loose, ineffective, wishy washy, and being in the limelight solely on account of his birth in the Gandhi family.

       So broadsides have been turned on him. He is being projected as the leading architect of failure of Congress in the UP elections (Of course the dismal performance of their on parties is not mentioned at all).

       Much worse is expected to follow in course of time, as the election scenario heats up. One would wish that a young man on whom responsibilities have been thrust would be given some quarter, but alas that simply cannot be expected in the rough world of politics. 

        The Public in India is fully aware of dynasty politics. With few exceptions they accept it. Meritocracy, is not the norm. The case of BJP, the communist parties, where dynasty politics has not entered in a big way are seen but not treated examples to be followed. 

        The media is happy with the news and photo ops. They are happy giving front page coverage and include articles both for and against. Journalists and ‘opinion makers’ (mostly paid) are busy penning articles. Even some editors have entered the fray. 

          Rahul himself appears to have realized or has been made to realize that being born a Gandhi is not a bed of roses worse a load of responsibility is placed on your shoulders. He has little choice but to come out and lead the party from the front or be called a failure or worse. It is good that the young man is waking up to his responsibilities.

         Life is going to be one of constant struggles in the rough and tumble of Indian politics. He needs to beware of the powerbrokers who flood 10 Jan path, and gather around him some good persons who will give him balanced advice on various issues. Such persons are rare and hard to come by, especially in the political circles. But then he has his mother who has seen good and really bad times and come out stronger, by his side. 

        Knowing the history of the Nehru Family one cannot but wish him success in his endeavors.   


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