Rahul as Congress president: Euphoria over Gandhi scion's elevation tempered by expectations, uneasy future

It was a formality that the Congress rank and file were waiting for quite some time. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday filed his nomination for election to the post of the party president. According to sources, since Rahul is the only one filing his nomination, his election is a foregone conclusion. The formal announcement, however, is likely to be done later.

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

And so, finally, the next generation of the Gandhi family is set to helm an organisation which began as a party of the common, educated Indians in 1885 but has undergone several transformations since then to reach its present avatar of a family party. It's a party which has been famously headed by members of his family and Rahul takes over from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, the incumbent party president.

The atmosphere outside the 24 Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters in New Delhi, was euphoric when Rahul arrived to file his nomination on Monday. Party workers were rejoicing over the impending election of their 'president-in-waiting,' almost in a scene that could be straight out of a fairy tale: Subjects rejoicing for their crown prince, hoping he will resuscitate a party that badly needs an injection after the rout it suffered in the 2014 general elections and in subsequent state Assembly elections.

From morning, hundreds of Congress workers from across the country gathered outside AICC headquarters. The moment the Congress vice-president filed his nomination, there was an outpouring of emotion and celebrations. Slogans, fireworks, beating of drums and distribution of sweets marked the day.

It’s almost after three years that Congress headquarters saw the presence of veteran Congress leaders who used to be a part of former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s core teams: Motilal Vohra, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, Kamal Nath, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Manmohan Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Sheila Dikshit, to name a few.

“It’s a historical day; a day of celebration and utsav for Congress workers. A new chapter is being added to history with Rahul as president. Thousands and thousands of Congress workers have been waiting for this day as he will lead the party with a new energy,” said Randeep Singh Surjewala, in-charge, Communication, AICC, immediately after the nomination was filed.

Rahul has had a tough life as a Gandhi scion. After all, he belongs to one of the world's most powerful political families. With Jawahar Lal Nehru for a grandfather, Indira for a grandmother and Rajiv for a father, Rahul has been carrying a heavy burden of expectations on his shoulder. The nation has not been very kind in assessing him vis-à-vis his predecessors.

While Nehru led the party in the first years after Independence with almost unanimous support of the majority of the masses, Indira had a turbulent relationship with the people. Yet, she steered the party into becoming the family-centric, omnipotent political entity that it became, investing the family with unprecedented powers. Rahul's father, Rajiv, an accidental prime minister, continues to hold the record of leading his party to a sweeping majority that will be hard for anybody to replicate. In the 1984 Lok Sabha election, held after Indira's assassination, Rajiv led his party to 404 out of 533 seats.


As if coming into this legacy is not enough, Rahul has the serious challenge of rebuilding a party that has, in the past few years, reached its nadir. His task is compounded by the fact that the field is not easy. He faces the biggest political juggernaut of our time: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Anything that’s stagnant can’t progress. The Congress is over 100 years old. Rahul, as the new leader, will bring a new blood and vigour into the organisation. Leadership is all about how one takes people forward, how one leads the team. And, he will prove it,” said senior Congress leader Ambika Soni.

Immediate challenges

The immediate challenge before Rahul is to continue leading the Congress from front in the Gujarat Assembly elections. When he eventually takes over as Congress president, alliances will be a major challenge. Overhauling the party cadre through internal restructuring, strengthening and restructuring the Congress units at the state level and how efficiently he deals with the old guard of the party are some immediate and long-term challenges.

“The immediate challenge or task before Rahul ji is Gujarat election, where he’s leading from front. Instead of making personal attacks like Modi, he’s taking up issues," Sharmistha Mukherjee, Delhi Congress spokesperson and daughter of Pranab Mukherjee told Firstpost. "For example, he questioned why Gujarat ranks so low in Human Development Index. Unlike the BJP, where veterans are pushed into Margdarshak Mandal, senior leaders in Congress are actively involved in policy making. Today, before filing nomination, Rahul ji met former president Pranab Mukherjee and former prime minister Manmohan Singh to seek their blessings. This is good sanskar."

Prior to visiting AICC headquarters, Rahul met Mukherjee, who blessed him with flowers and put a tilak on his forehead.


Sharmistha added, “Congress is a party with continuity, change and evolution. We’re rooted in our traditions and no drastic change will occur. Rahul ji may make his team, but seniors will play an important role. It will be a good team of young leaders and a combination of young blood and experiences of old generation.”

Enthusiasm among youth

It wasn’t just the senior leaders and Congress workers who gathered at the headquarters to celebrate Rahul’s nomination: There were also members from Sewa Dal, Youth Congress (YC) and students’ wing National Students’ Union of India (NSUI).

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh aptly described Rahul’s elevation as ‘euphoric’ and said, “It’s a dawn of young India. He’ll make a good prime minister.”

The younger generation in Congress party as well as in its affiliated bodies feels that barring Rahul, no other leader at present has a pan-India appeal. Referring to Rahul’s tenure as Congress general secretary, the national media in-charge of NSUI, Neeraj Mishra said, “First thing he did after becoming the general secretary was democratise NSUI and YC. His vision helped identify leadership in NSUI. Earlier, office bearers were appointed directly. This system gave opportunity to many of us who’re not from any political background, but proved ourselves by working in our respective areas, to be a part of Congress and work further. Rahul ji’s vision and leadership will further strengthen the party. He told us last month that whether one holds a post or not, should strive to carry forward India's constitutional values.”

Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury summed it up: “Much will depend on how Rahul brings generational change at all levels; how he projects young leaders in the party as faces during the forthcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh in 2018. Working in tandem with fresh young faces and the experiences of old guard will be a challenge.”

Read complete coverage of Gujarat Elections 2017 here

 

 

 


Published Date: Dec 04, 2017 09:01 pm | Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 10:16 pm



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