Barkis is willing. After all the carping Rahul Gandhi, apparent heir to the Congress throne, set the cat among the pigeons on Thursday when he unexpectedly announced for the record that he was willing to play a larger role.
The key question is whether the new role will be in government or party. If it’s the latter, it will not impact anyone other than the Congress’ internal equations. But if it’s the former, a role in government, it would mean a ministership. That will mean a significant shakeup in the UPA-2 power structure.
Rahul himself was equivocal when NDTV asked him whether he would play a larger role in government or party, and his reply was: “both options are open.” It was up to his “two bosses” – Manmohan and Mamma Mia – to decide. But Sonia Gandhi passed the buck to him the other day, when she said he would decide on this.
This buck-passing between mother and son need not detain us, but one presumes that Rahul will join the government rather than merely play a larger role in the party if he has to have profile and impact in the run-up to 2014. Changing Rahul’s role from General Secretary to Vice-President or even Working President won’t do much to improve his public profile.
Moving to government will, however, have a huge impact on the functioning of UPA-2. Three areas will be impacted.
First, Rahul’s entry will necessitate a cabinet reshuffle of significant proportions, though a reshuffle was due anyway due to Pranab Mukherjee’s elevation to the presidency.
Second, his entry into government will significantly diminish Manmohan’s perceived status as Prime Minister and make the working of the cabinet harder. If Manmohan had a tough time asserting his authority when Sonia Gandhi was outside the government, consider how difficult it will be to do so when Rahul is inside the government. All Congress ministers start kowtowing to him and look to his for political cues. Sharad Pawar’s so-called unhappiness with not being accorded No 2 status will be history, for Rahul will be de facto No 2, no matter where he sits.
Third, inside the Congress, there will be a significant realignment of political forces, as politicians – in true Congress style – start making a beeline to ingratiate themselves with Rahul Gandhi as the new executive and political power centre.
The cabinet shuffle will, by far, be the major event to look for in the coming days.
Who gets what ministry – especially the top spots involving finance, home, defence, external affairs, law, rural development and agriculture – will depend on which ministry is more appropriate to project Rahul as the go-getter.
So the point of speculative interest is which ministry will work best for Rahul?
Let’s first rule out the ministries that won’t work for him. Finance is out, for there are simply too many hard decisions to be taken (cut subsidies, etc), and these are best left to people who will carry the can for the party.
Home is out, for once again it means taking tough decisions on issues like the National Counter Terrorism Centre and dealing with Naxals, not something the Yuvraj would want to sully his reputation with.
External Affairs is a good, safe option. It would involve a lot of external projection for Rahul, but makes practically no political sense back home, unless Rahul brings in a peace deal with Pakistan. An unlikely prospect.