Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress president: As party workers celebrate, monumental challenges lie ahead

The future is not ours to see, but if Rahul Gandhi were to follow his family tradition and become Prime Minister of India, 20 November, 2017, will be fondly remembered for providing the first glimpse of his party going berserk over his impending elevation to Congress president.

The election of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president will take place only after the formalities are completed by 16 December, but the final clearing of the decks for the prince-in-waiting infused the party workers with a zeal that they had been missing since the Narendra Modi wave overtook the country a little more than three years ago.

 Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress president: As party workers celebrate, monumental challenges lie ahead

Congress workers set off fireworks outside party headquarters in Delhi. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

Though the challenges that lie ahead of Rahul for resuscitating the party are monumental, for the members of the Grand Old Party who continue to hope for its revival, Monday was a red-letter day.

The moment Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting ended and it became clear that Rahul would be the next Congress president after a polling process, party workers eagerly awaiting outside Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road burst into celebration.

The atmosphere turned festive. Amidst loud chants of ‘Rahul Gandhi Zindabad’ and 'Humara neta kaisa ho, Rahul Gandhi jaisa ho”, Congress workers from Delhi and all over the country began setting off fireworks.

“It’s a big day for us. It is like a mini-Diwali, so we're celebrating with crackers and fireworks, which we couldn't do during Diwali. The long wait has come to an end. Rahul ji will finally be our president,” Surinder Singh Sodhi, a Youth Congress worker told Firstpost, after which he lit an ‘Anaar’.

Visibly upbeat, Harish Kasana, a party worker belonging to Karnal in Haryana said, “As president of the party, Rahul Gandhi fight for the rights of the farmers and labourers. This segment of society has been ignored for past three years. He will be our prime ministerial candidate in 2019.”

Will Rahul take on PM in 2019?

Though it is clear Rahul will be the next party president after a formal polling process, senior Congress leaders are still reticent to speak about the role Sonia Gandhi will play after Rahul takes over as party chief.

“Sonia ji  is our most respected leader and mentor. Her guidance and leadership will always be available, not only to Rahul but to crores of Congress workers. Once the election (for party president) is over, we’ll talk about our new president’s role,” said All India Congress Committee spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.

Party workers outside Congress headquarters were unanimous: They wanted to see Rahul stand against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 general election.

RPN Singh, Congress leader in-charge of Jharkhand state, speaking with Firstpost after the Congress Working Committee meeting, confirmed that Rahul would be the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“Party workers and leaders wanted Rahul Gandhi as president. Today’s development has excited and energised them. For the past three-and-a-half years, Rahul has raised his voice on several issues: Demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), farmers’ distress and corruption,” Singh said.

Challenges facing Rahul

Once Rahul takes over as Congress chief, he’s expected to face a tough challenge from Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, who are known for their connection to the grass roots and drawing up electoral strategies with surgical precision.

On the other hand, Rahul as Congress vice-president failed during the Assembly elections, be it allying with the Left in West Bengal or in Uttar Pradesh.  Many times, Rahul has been accused of being an absentee politician.

When he takes over, dealing with alliances will be a major challenge. Especially given the fact that the NCP just snapped ties with the Congress in Gujarat. A rift has also emerged between the Patidars and Congress.

The second challenge would be overhauling the party cadre through internal restructuring. Third, Rahul's equations with the old guard of the Congress and how efficiently he deals with them will be watched closely. Fourth, regaining the trust of party workers across the country will be crucial.

Earlier, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who switched from Congress to the BJP in 2015 and helped the latter to win the 2016 Assam election, alleged that despite waiting for Rahul for several days, he was unable to meet him at a time when the party was in disarray in Assam.

Senior Congress leader and CWC special invitee Anil Shastri said, “There are several challenges before Rahul: Revamping the organisation through restructuring. There are sets of people at different levels,  senior and young. All of them need to be brought together and geared up to take on Modi and company.”

“Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka will be crucial and challenging. Rahul also needs to take time to meet more party workers. Sonia met party workers and people every day."

Harsh Pandey, a Congress worker, who came all the way from Madhya Pradesh, said: "With Rahul ji as president, the Congress can surely make a comeback in Madhya Pradesh. His elevation will definitely help to energise youth workers and strongly bind them.”


Updated Date: Nov 21, 2017 06:48:42 IST