Now that Pranab Mukherjee has been “kicked upstairs”, the Congress party has cleared the way for Rahul Gandhi to be responsible for a larger role in the party and in the government so that eventually he can become the country’s prime minister.
Based on how many times Mukherjee was bypassed for the prime minister’s job, this analyst had predicted that the party’s top priority would be to get Mukherjee elected as the president so that the decks are cleared for the much awaited rise of Rahul Gandhi. Mukherjee deserves the respect because he was first bypassed as the seniormost leader when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 to bring in Rajiv Gandhi and then again was ignored when Rajiv himself was assassinated seven years later.
Although the party has never presented Mukherjee’s selection in this scenario, the coincidences clearly point to that direction. It could be just a coincidence that Rahul showed his willingness to acquire a larger role in the party and the government on the same day (Thursday) when lawmakers were voting for the presidential election and just as it was becoming very clear that Mukherjee’s election is a foregone conclusion. In fact, some of the Indian textbooks printed before the election referred to him as the 13th president.
Now that the way is clear, Rahul Gandhi has a huge responsibility in front of him of rising to the occasion in a very intelligent and politically savvy way. He should realize that the shoes he is going to have to step into are much bigger than those of his father, Rajiv Gandhi.
Even though in the beginning Rajiv was not interested in politics and later when he was forced into it by his mother’s sudden slaying and was baptized by fire, was not considered to be politically shrewd and was defeated because of his alleged involvement in the Bofors scandal, he had started showing his political acumen in the election campaign of 1991 when he was ruthlessly cut short by an assassin. Had he lived, he would have been an excellent prime minister who had a vision to modernize India and improve its daily life levels to international standards. His mother, Indira Gandhi, was known for bringing India to the world map in the foreign policy sphere, and he would have been known as the leader who brought India to the map of a modern and hi-tech world.
Those are the shoes Rahul is going to step into. But from all perspectives, he has the background and understanding to become a good leader of the upcoming younger generation of India. His humiliating defeat in getting his party win in the Uttar Pradesh elections must have given him the insight into India’s murky politics and an idea of what kind of responsibility he is getting into.
His exploratory visits to different parts of India had reminded some about the discovery of India that his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote about. They also had a touch of how young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi tried to discover India as soon as he arrived from South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi said at the time that India lives in its villages and so did Rahul, although not in the same words. He said India’s future cannot be changed without improving the plight of rural India. Just like the older Gandhi, Rahul also had lived most of his life outside India before he tried to rediscover India when he came back.
The two conclusions Rahul made during these visits can change the future of this great nation, provided he seriously executes them when he takes over the party and the government. He said he stood for two things — India’s rural development and bringing youth into the country’s politics. He also got the two goals incorporated in the Congress Party’s last election manifesto.
If he can hold on to these two policy pillars after his rise in the party and can seriously achieve the two goals, he and his country may never look back. I hope he realizes this is a big IF in a country where the political scene is full of ruthlessly selfish opportunists with no principles or scruples and that it will take a Herculean effort on his part to deliver on these two promises.
(22-07-2012-Ravi M. Khanna was the New Delhi-based VOA Bureau Chief from 1986 to 1989 and covered Rajiv Gandhi’s politics and policies extensively. He also was responsible for “Rajiv’s India” a one-hour Emmy-nominated TV documentary made for the US TV channel PBS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)