'Son rise' in Congress: It's too soon to write off Rahul Gandhi

There is a certain air of inevitability to Rahul Gandhi's ascension to the No 2 post in the Congress party. For months now, diehard Dynasty worshippers within the party had practically been chanting the Rahul Gandhi chalisa and asking for the yuvraj to be coronated - not just as party leader, but as Prime Minister.

Were it not for the fact that Rahul Gandhi's own lack of self-assuredness  in politics, which manifests itself everytime he steps out of his comfort zone of carefully corralled crowds, inhibited him from taking on a larger role despite the many intimations of his imminent arrival,  he would have been borne aloft the hot air of chamchagiri and inflicted upon the country.

In rare moments of earnestness, Rahul Gandhi has in the past confessed to a keenness to "work his way out of a job," so to speak. The Congress party, which is something of a Nehru-Gandhi family heirloom, privileges people like himself, who belong to the First Family of Indian politics, but he himself was working to rejuvenate it through inner-party democracy, he claimed. And when that mission is accomplished, he suggested, the party will no longer be tied to dynastic apronstrings.

Media commentators are salivating at the prospect of a Modi-vs-Rahul battle in 2014. AFP

It's hard to say with certainty whether Rahul Gandhi was ever serious about weaning the party away from its dynastic instincts. Certainly he went about trying to hold elections to the Youth Congress and infuse some fresh blood. But when the old order within the party struck back, he surrendered too tamely and fell back upon a group of trusted courtiers, the only distinguishing feature of whom was that virtually all of them were themselves the fruits of sub-dynastic politics within the Congress.

The passage of time, however, appears to have dimmed Rahul Gandhi's ardour to render the Dynasty irrelevant. One reason for this could be that there is far too much at stake for the First Family to forego all the trappings of power. As the National Herald land scam case showed, the Congress is today a business empire more than a political party. Even notionally apolitical sons-in-law get to ride the gravy train and profit unduly from being a part of the  Dynasty. And as Sonia Gandhi has demonstrated over the past eight-plus years, untrammelled power can be wielded without responsibility and accountability.

But it's perhaps just as true that Rahul Gandhi has valiantly overcome his own sense of self-doubt and increasingly sees himself in messianic terms. After his formal anointment as party vice-president on Saturday, he claimed he was looking to "transform India". "I have great experience," he said. "In the last eight years that I have worked with the party I have seen it is a great organisation and together we will transform the country."

Critics of the Congress have been mocking Rahul Gandhi's elevation, and leaders of the BJP have airily dismissed him as a political lightweight who won't change the game for the Congress in any significant way. They perhaps take heart from Rahul Gandhi's patchy record of recent months and years - in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat - where Rahul Gandhi's exertions failed miserably. Perhaps they rejoice too soon. When you're a Rahul Gandhi, there will always be countless "fall guys" within the party to accept moral responsibility for electoral losses. Any victory, on the other hand, will be attributed to the "Chanakyan politics" of Rahul Gandhi, as happened after the 2009 general elections.

Another such opportunity presents itself in Karnataka, where Assembly elections later this year will likely see the BJP lose its foothold in the South. Watch how the Congress spin doctors  project it as a "Rahul Gandhi-engineered victory" and set him up for 2014...

Media commentators are already salivating at the prospect of seeing a galactic battle in 2014 between a Rahul Gandhi-led Congress and a Narendra Modi-led BJP.  If it does come about, it will be the sharpest clash of political ideas and personalities that we will have seen in a generation. But there is no certainty of such a contest, given that the Congress appears to have residual inhibitions about making it a Presidential-style election which will amplify Rahul Gandhi's limitations.

Rather than rejoice over Rahul Gandhi's anointment, the BJP would be better off addressing its own organisational limitations that keep it from leveraging on the UPA government's many follies of the past four years. Even today, the BJP is under RSS pressure to reappoint Nitin Gadkari as its president for a second term.   If it yields, it will have appointed as its president about the only leader who can match Rahul Gandhi for his inability to inspire. It will also validate the belief that the BJP is infinitely capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.


Updated Date: Jan 20, 2013 08:34 AM

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