He comes, he sees, he listens: The new avatar of Rahul

by Nov 29, 2012

For any political journalist worth his salt, the Rahul Gandhi beat must be about the most deadening job ever.  Watching paint dry could provide for more excitement than trying to create lively copy out of the national scion’s glacial progress to wherever he is headed.

For example, a recent report on how Rahul is rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on revitalizing the Congress comes up with this deep insight from an unnamed party bigwig:

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Another leader said: “He is asking a lot of questions and trying to go to the root of the problems. It is clear he will make future plans now.”

According to the report which you can read in its entirety here, Rahul is focusing on states where the Congress is not in power. Instead of  “devising quick-fix tactics to win elections” he is trying to look at the historical causes for the party’s decline in those states. Party leaders appear to be breathless with excitement that he is actually "listening intently" now and not impatiently asking for "bullet-point quick presentations".

But of course, no one can address the elephant in the room which is Rahul Gandhi himself. In their suggestions about how to re-energise the party and revamp it in states where it’s flailing, leaders have brought up various issues from the heavy handedness of the high command to  promoting younger leaders.

However as Ramachandra Guha made clear in his column earlier this month, the party cannot really promote younger leaders because it’s afraid they might outshine the crown prince. Guha points out that when the first UPA government came to power, the allies appointed younger leaders like Ambubani Ramadoss to their cabinet slots. But the Congress went for the 70-plus old faithfuls.

Towards the end of the UPA’s first term, a few young Congress leaders were made ministers of state. They have continued in these junior positions for the past four years. It is overwhelmingly likely that this is because Sonia Gandhi fears that if any one of them was made cabinet minister, and performed well in that position, this would reflect badly on her son. Since Rahul Gandhi is not yet ready to become a cabinet minister, no other young Congressman can become a cabinet minister either.

In fact, Guha says while Sonia Gandhi’s most vociferous critics cast aspersions on her patriotism because of her origins, "the problem with Sonia Gandhi’s politics is not her foreign birth, but her worship of her Indian family".

On one hand that means the party is trapped in the past with its leaders taking out full pages ads on Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday or naming every second welfare scheme after him.

On the other hand it’s paralysed in its future as it  cannot promote real leaders under fifty who might just come across as more dynamic than Rahul. Any story about Rahul and the Congress always looks to the future as in "it's clear he will make future plans now."  But that future has been a long time coming. Meanwhile the present just drags on in limboland. To rephrase Lewis Carroll's White Queen it's always jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today.

At an event in Bangalore, Guha told a story to illustrate the Congress’ dynasty worship problem.

I saw a long queue of Congress party members waiting outside Rahul Gandhi's house during his birthday, a couple of years ago, braving scorching sun. Nevertheless, Rahul didn't come out to greet them while the 100 kilogram cake they had brought for him disintegrated leaving a trail from the Congress general secretary's house till the Indira Gandhi circle.

The hapless cake is obviously  a melting metaphor for the Congress itself – which its prince will neither eat nor let go of.  As the song goes:

all the sweet green icing flowing down
someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
and I'll never have that recipe again.

But the story illustrates something that should give the Congress more cause for indigestion than its sycophancy problem.

Rahul Gandhi is the Congress’ weak zone,  not because dynasty is bad per se. If Rahul were a dynamic gung-ho leader, his party would not mind the fact that it’s dynastic privilege that paved his way to the top. That would be dynasty that delivered and the party would be happy to ride its coat-tails. But dynasty, badly done, is far worse. It neither delivers the results. Nor is there any deliverance from it.

It does not augur well for the party when its leaders have to enthuse to political correspondents that its de facto Number 2 is now “listening intently”.

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