Free Press Journal

Birthday Special: Decoding Rahul Gandhi at 47


Rahul Rajiv Gandhi‘s political career is at crossroads. The dynast of the Gandhi family will turn 47 on June 19 and his identity as a leader is under serious threat. Indian National Congress vice-president is facing existential crisis. Rahul has been called names like ‘pappu’ (dumb kid), ridiculed and made fun of on many issues. The son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the grandson of late Indira Gandhi has not fulfilled his potential and the future looks gloomy and uncertain. Rahul has to lead from the front and has to be accountable to gain the public trust and the 130 year old party is banking on Sonia Gandhi’s son to come out of the rut that they are stuck and take the Grand Old Party to its past glory and integrity.

The recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh saw Congress plummet to seven seats (INC contested on 105 seats), yeah you have read that right. Congress was in alliance with ruling Samajwadi Party and was beaten by a very big margin. There was some good news in Punjab, where Congress formed the government after 10 years, but it was mainly due to Captain Amarinder Singh’s effort and Congress rode their luck on Shiromani Akali Dal’s huge anti-incumbency. Congress only has one big state in its kitty i.e. Karnataka. Congress fluffed their chances in small states like Goa and Manipur despite being the single largest party due to weak leadership and resting on their laurels. Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah’s prediction of ‘Congress mukt Bharat (Congress free India) will soon become a reality, if Congress and specially Rahul Gandhi cannot get their act together.

Entry into Politics:

Rahul Gandhi was only 34 years old when he first became the Member of Parliament. The seat that he contested i.e Amethi was a family bastion and he tasted success on very first try. The Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won against all odds, came to power and Rahul was seen as the next big thing in Indian political arena. The Gandhi family’s new entrant did not hold any post in the government and wanted to limit himself as only general secretary and to oversee party’s affairs without holding any portfolio in the government of then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh.

The elections in 2009 were seen as Gandhi vs Lal Krishna Advani but Rahul again dropped his name and said that Dr Singh will continue in the power and they will fight the election under Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The result for the Lok Sabha was on expected lines and UPA won quite handsomely (single largest party with 206 seats) and came to power on the plank of development and growth.

UPA government going downhill:

The period from 2009-2014 was one of the most volatile and uncertain in the history of independent India. Congress led UPA were involved in scams and impropriety while holding public office. The scams were gigantic and the whole government collapsed under 2G, CWG, Adarsh and they were labelled as the most corrupt and unstable by their critics.

Political thinkers and commentators were expecting some action and results from Rahul but he kept mum and was a mute spectator. The period also saw rise of Social activist Anna Hazare, who challenged the status quo and demanded answers from the ruling dispensation. Congress was losing state after state and they were given the label of ‘policy paralysis’ as the cabinet was ineffective and weren’t taking nation forward. The public was very disappointed and Rahul didn’t cover himself in glory.

2014 General Elections:

Narendra Modi, Bhartiya Janta Party led National Democratic Alliance’s PM nominee won a huge mandate and came to power with humongous numbers. Rahul Gandhi’s INC won a dreadful 44 seats and they were wiped out from the political map of India. Rahul Gandhi took the responsibility but he did not walk the talk and no changes were made in the organisation and Congress was still seen as an archaic party who would only run on dynasty and nepotism.

INC vice-president is still coming to the terms with less than 10 percent seats in the lower house and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Gandhi has started taking the initiative but he has a long way to go before political class takes him seriously and the upcoming assembly and general election, which is slated for 2019, will be an acid test.

Where is Congress heading

Amit Shah, BJP’s national president has called for Congress free India and people are taking a note of it. Rahul has strongly condemned and has indulged in name calling such as ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ and arhar Modi. This rhetoric and barbs will be discussed in prime time television studios but people want result at grassroot level and they want delivery rather than loose talk. Rahul also questiond government’s surgical strike against Pakistan, after the dastardly Uri attacks (19 soldiers were martyred) and belittled Indian Army by saying it was ‘Khoon ki Dallali’ (profiteering from soldiers’ death).

The general elections are less than two years away and Rahul Gandhi has no concrete plan or idea on how to take on the Modi led NDA. The worry for Congress is the upcoming assembly elections in the next 18 months, from December 2017 onwards {Gujarat-BJP, Himachal Pradesh-INC, Rajasthan-BJP, Madhya Pradesh-BJP, Chattisgarh-BJP, Karnataka-INC}. The painful reality check for Gandhi led Congress is their chances are very bleak and even the most faithful cadre of the party knows that and there is very little time to do a course correction.

Threats and perception:

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister and national convener of Aam Aadmi Party and regional satraps such as Nitish Kumar JD( U), AIADMK, Mamata Banerjee (AITMC), Naveen Patnaik (BJD), Mayawati (BSP), Mulayam Singh Yadav(SP), Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) are taking the opposition space created by Congress and it will not be a surprise if these regional players make Congress a minimal party and a very small player. People at large want a strong opposition but they are losing confidence in the leadership duo of Sonia and Rahul.

There is a perception that Congress is a private company where loyalty to the high command is supreme and it promotes dynasty rather than selecting hard working and grassroot politicians. Rahul needs support of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to resurrect the party and take Congress to the highs that they enjoyed after independence and ruled the country for more than 60 years.

Legacy of Gandhi:  

Rahul Gandhi is an honest politician and has no taint of graft charges levelled against him. The time has come to take the baton of president from ailing Sonia Gandhi and have complete control of the GOP. India is a vibrant democracy and it needs younger person to energise the young electoral. Gandhi is no novice, he is three time MP and knows the nitty-gritty of hardcore politics. The process will be difficult and it will be a long struggle before Congress comes to power, but Rahul owes it to the nation to give an alternative and be the voice of marginalised, poor and youth to carry the fight.

Is Rahul Gandhi misunderstood? The public opinion suggests that but Rahul is very bright and he just has to come out of the shadow and prove that he belongs at this level. India needs a multi pronged opposition and cannot afford to rule by a one party.

The message is loud and clear for Congress’ chosen one, either perform or perish.