Lakhs of Congress members had waited endlessly to see Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of his party from his mother Sonia Gandhi. While a section of leaders wanted it to happen for “clarity,” for the rest of them, it meant realisation of dreams and aspirations.
The Congress’s Central Working Committee meeting held on Monday morning has only announced the schedule for the “election” of the party president. The nomination process will be over by 4 December, five days ahead of the first phase of polling in Gujarat. But it is more than clear who is going to be declared as the next president of India’s Grand Old Party. The buzz about Rahul Gandhi at the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, years of media reporting on the subject and celebrations outside of 10 Janpath, say it all.
Rahul’s elevation as party president would mean yet another occasion of dynastic succession. For millions of Congress members and its sympathisers, dynastic rule and succession at the top is a virtue for the party, a unique glue that holds the party together, irrespective of success or failure.
One can’t be a part of the Congress, directly or indirectly, if he or she does not have abiding faith in the aura and mystique of the Nehru-Gandhi family. On his part, Rahul Gandhi is undeterred by critics and political rivals who allege that he is a “failed dynast”. Remember his recent remark— “that (dynasty) is how India runs.”
When the Congress makes the formal announcement of Rahul Gandhi’s anointment as party president, after fulfilling the procedural obligations of a “democratic” party, it will only be naming the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, spread over five generations in a time span of 90 years.
Rahul Gandhi’s great-great paternal grandfather Motilal Nehru was the first one from the family to take over the post of the Congress president in pre-Independent India, in 1928 at the Calcutta session. Rahul’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru succeeded Motilal Nehru in 1929 at the Lahore session. In 1936, Nehru again became the Congress president. In independent India, Nehru became the prime minster and held the post of Congress president from 1951-54. Rahul’s grandmother Indira Gandhi followed, becoming Congress president in 1959, and 1978-84. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi followed his mother Indira’s footsteps, becoming the prime minister and the Congress president. He held the Congress president’s post till his assassination in 1991. After years of seclusion, Sonia Gandhi made an entry in active politics by becoming the Congress president in 1998. She has been the Congress president for a record 19 years.
Perhaps no other democratic party in the world has such a record of an uninterrupted run as president of one of the principal national parties for about two decades. Her authority and aura had been such that she could even nominate the prime minister and keep him in office for 10 years. She had complete control over the government as an extra-constitutional super prime minister, without any responsibility.
Now, when she is all set to relinquish the party president’s post to pave the way for her 47-year-old son Rahul, she will be writing yet another important chapter in the Congress’s history.
At no point in time since Grand Old Party’s foundation did the Congress have this kind of a situation—a mother passing on the baton to her son. Even the Nehru-Gandhi family’s departed elders didn’t do it, or didn’t have the privilege of doing it.
It’s not clear yet what role Sonia would have after Rahul formally presides over the party. But, in all likelihood, she would play role of a mentor, the chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party, or some other position through which she would be at the top without being president. It has to kept in mind that there are allies of the party like the Left, RJD and NCP, who prefer to deal with Sonia Gandhi rather than Rahul.
Rahul’s takeover as Congress president ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections will further heighten interest in the media and the people. The election will, for all practical purposes, become a `Rahul versus Modi’ fight.
Soon after Rahul Gandhi's expected elevation, the results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections will be declared. The former is a state where the Congress last won an election in 1985, and the latter is one where polling is over and various pre-poll surveys have predicted the BJP as clear victor. The challenges ahead of Rahul are stiff. As it is, he is taking over at a time when the Congress’s stock is at its lowest ever. The party’s organizational and power base has shrunk and is shrinking further.
It was incidental that on the day that the Congress’s CWC announced its schedule for the 'election' to the party president’s post, ally NCP severed ties with it in Gujarat and announced that it will go solo in the elections. Patidar leader Hardik Patel is keeping the suspense alive on his alliance with Congress.
However, the Gujarat election 2017 presents an opportunity to Rahul. There are certain factors on the ground, like anger over irritants in the implementation of GST, 22 years of supposed anti-incumbency against the BJP, and Narendra Modi not being directly at the helm.
Updated Date: Nov 20, 2017 19:15 PM