Rahul Gandhi should remain outside the Cabinet. He will not be able to bring anything of value to this government in the time it has left.
Even if it had longer than 17 months, Gandhi would serve it better by doing what he does, grassroots party work. What exactly does that mean? It means making sure that the organisation is in the hands of capable men and women at the level of districts, of which India has 640, and making sure these people are fired up. This means travelling in the states constantly and it isn't a part time job.
Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram once said that a party could only be expanded in an election. What he meant by that was the opposite of what is obvious. It was the work you put in during the 58 months when there was no election which would germinate and sprout in the 2 months of the campaign.
The plan of the Nehru-Gandhi family has been thus far to work on the Congress party and let professionals like Manmohan Singh run policy so far as that was possible. This explains their clean separation from the government, and neither mother nor son are part of it. Of course, a Cabinet cannot and should not be divorced from the electorate by being comprised entirely of the unelected or nominated. This is why most senior Congressmen are part of government.
It is being speculated that in the Cabinet expansion likely either today or tomorrow, Rahul Gandhi might become a minister.
What will Gandhi's entry into the Cabinet do? It will excite Congressmen, who will feel a sense of ownership about the government that they don't have so far. Even if we were to accept that Manmohan Singh is good at his job, he is cold and remote.
If a Gandhi becomes the government's face, this aspect of ownership will change, it is true, but that can be also done in other ways, through media for instance, and association through ownership of policies.
The party on the other hand cannot be either expanded or nurtured remotely.
The other thing is that as a minister Gandhi will also have to face the daily meatgrinder of the news machine. This will not be comfortable for someone who has thus far only opened himself up on his terms.
As a minister Gandhi will also have to face the opposition in Parliament on questions the family currently thinks it is too regal to respond to, such as the Vadra business.
It isn't clear what sort of plan for grassroots work Gandhi has for himself, how long he thinks he needs to nourish the party sufficiently for it to win Lok Sabha majorities on its own. And how long before it can again become a contender in states it used to dominate 30 years ago.
The evidence is that he has not been successful in the places he's tried hardest, for instance Uttar Pradesh. However his real test will be the 2014 Lok Sabha. If he's able to bring in 200 seats again, it will be a triumph.
There is little chance in my opinion that he can do that merely by becoming the face of a government that is discredited in the eyes of many.
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