Rahul Gandhi may not be projected as PM in 2014

By Sanjay Pugalia

Has Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid committed an unpardonable sin or done the Congress party a favour?

His remarks to the media on the Congress leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have come under fire. The Congress has asked him to explain what exactly he meant by saying that the party was “directionless” and for suggesting that the long-touted Prime Ministerial candidate has not delivered.

Has Salman Khurshid done the Congress a favour by spelling out what everyone knew but was afraid to say aloud?

His intent, however, has been grossly misinterpreted. Khurshid has actually bestowed an invaluable favour on the party by stating openly what everyone knew but was afraid to speak about for fear of being branded disloyal.

But he may also have let the cat out of the bag on Rahul Gandhi. What seems clear is that Rahul Gandhi will not be projected as Congress’ Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014. It is this unprecedented bit of news that Khurshid has inadvertently revealed.

The Congress cannot underestimate the gravity of the problem that it is struggling to grapple with in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s debacle in Uttar Pradesh. The biggest impediment has been its refusal to face up the fact that there is a problem in the first place. Khurshid has just tried to end that denial once and for all.

We have no reason to doubt his intelligence. Or his loyalty to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. He is definitely not so naïve as to have expected a unanimously positive reception to his remarks. He is sure to have foreseen the party backlash and, yet, he chose to risk his neck and bring the facts out in the open - an action that only proves his concern for the party’s future.

It is important that we understand the significance of what Khurshid left unsaid. My interpretation of the entire brouhaha is that Sonia Gandhi has finally come to the realisation that the Congress party was running on the strength of four key props – and all of them have failed.

The first prop was the Prime Minister, who had gone into silent mode. He failed to run the government effectively and allowed a free run to all concerned. The second prop was erstwhile Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who was managing Parliament, allies and other parties, but whose services in this respect are no longer available to the party. The third prop is Sonia Gandhi herself, who was supposed to manage the overall politics of the coalition and her own party. And the last prop was the Rahul Gandhi bloc, consisting of his supporters and allies.

The Congress party finds itself in this unenviable situation because none of these four mainstays worked in tandem, each one preferring to follow its own agenda in isolation. While all the props were aware of the problems facing the government, not a single one could muster up the courage to say that it was not working. If Manmohan Singh waited for Sonia to give him the go ahead, Sonia herself remained mum for reasons unknown. All the four props played the waiting game, hoping that someone else would speak up and spare them the repercussions.

After UP poll defeat, some soul searching seems to have happened and Mrs Gandhi and other key functionaries realised this. A large number of Congress leaders hoped that after the presidential poll, the party bosses will put a plan together and act.

Against this backdrop, the waiting has come to an end. Someone has spoken up, and that someone is Salman Khurshid. In my opinion, the Congress should thank the Law Minister for breaking the increasingly unbearable silence and putting a face to the Congress’ problems.

Post the Uttar Pradesh fiasco, not many Congressmen had the courage to acknowledge that Rahul Gandhi’s dreams have been dashed for the moment. But it seems likely that Rahul Gandhi will not be projected as the Congress’s PM in 2014.

It is now upto Sonia Gandhi to address the void that Rahul Gandhi’s non-performance has created. I believe she has now realised that she has to take charge and start the laborious process of reversing the damage. The first step towards this has already been taken by asking Manmohan Singh to run the finance ministry for a while. But then he has to act, and in order to ensure he acts, Mrs Gandhi has to allow him to improve the economy before she asks for money for her social agenda.

Mrs Gandhi also has to strategise her subsequent moves so as to safeguard the Congress’s position.

Salman’s words clearly reflect that Sonia has diagnosed the problem and will now empower key leaders to be able to take steps to resolve it. She faces a supremely tough task ahead, considering that her motherly plan for Rahul for 2014 has failed.

One should give full marks to Salman Khurshid for unmasking the spectre that has been haunting the Congress for much too long now. However, unmasking the problem does not mean working out a solution. The onus for finding solutions falls on the Congress and Sonia Gandhi.

Sanjay Pugalia is Editor-in-Chief of CNBC Awaaz