It is a long-known fact that in the Congress, there is no alternative to the family. Indeed, Congress leaders have nurtured the deep belief that the party and the dynasty are inseparable and that the former’s existence is dependent on the latter. In the chorus of voices over the last few weeks pushing for Mr Gandhi to play a more critical role, a fawning Digvijay Singh, Congress General Secretary, announced by September he expected Mr Gandhi to play a role larger than his current one of being in-charge of the Youth Congress and the NSUI. Many of his colleagues who have been publicly demanding a larger role for the party’s Yuvraj can only be expected to echo Singh’s appalling sycophancy which some in the party may find distasteful. Given that the UPA government is being assailed from all quarters, the focus on the chorus to assign a “larger” and more “decisive” role to the Gandhi scion only signals the atavistic response of looking to dynasty as a saviour. That the Congress should be flaunting its only USP, the Nehru-Gandhi legacy reveals the bankruptcy of ideas within the party.
The Congress and the UPA government may well be desperate to rebrand itself and present a new face to the electorate. But it has played its only card to trump its national rival, the BJP, the Gandhi card. This gives credence to the claims that apart from the Gandhi brand name, the party doesn’t have anything else to recommend it. The UPA government was voted back to power in 2009 with high expectations. However, recent scams and scandals are a sad reflection of poor governance. By no stretch of imagination can its governance be called a success. Scam after scam tumbled out of its closet. Prices of essential commodities shot up. But instead of taking strong action against corruption, political brass indulged in procrastination. Instead of pushing reforms the government has pursued populist measures even though it has failed to rein in inflation and a burgeoning fiscal deficit.
Not only does the Congress look hopelessly out of sync with the realities faced by the common man, there also seems to be no consensus between the party and the government on crucial issues. The Congress’s inability to reorient itself ideologically has done immense damage to its image. In fact, it seems to be only obsessed with hero worshipping the Gandhis. Coalition mismanagement has also shown that the impasse at the heart of the Congress is taking a spreading toll. It is no accident that the Law Minister Mr Salman Khurshid has put his finger on the disarray and incompetence in a party that appears to be waiting for an ideological direction from the next leader. But the Congress which is in denial mode when it comes to the problems, besetting it, may not understand the import of Salman Khurshid’s statement on the drift in the party.
The truth is that the Congress continues to drift despite several electoral reverses in the recent elections, most prominent among them being the UP elections. These results should have acted as a wake-up call for the party and prompted it to change its style of functioning. Sonia Gandhi, in suggesting that the Congress’s dismal performance in UP was because it had too many leaders, seems to have forgotten that it was Rahul Gandhi who was at the helm of poll campaigning. The culture of sycophancy has resulted in a dearth of capable leaders. The Congress needs to purge itself of coterie syndrome, its culture of sycophancy and factionalism.
At the same time, need of the hour for the party is to strengthen its ties with regional players. The main reason why the Congress is at the receiving end in many states is because it has miserably failed in tackling regionalism. It is always fiddling with national non-issues but is unable to come to grips with local issues. The party is in dire need to shift to regional mode if it wants to match the voters’ aspirations.
A day after Digvijay Singh said Rahul would assume a bigger role in party affairs after September, it stirred the political pot and the speculation about his assignment gripped the Congress ranks. While there are indications that Rahul may remain engaged with the organisation, many are not ruling out his projection as the prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 general elections. Thus far, he has strenuously opposed the idea though the PM himself had extended an open invitation to him. Senior party functionaries seem to believe that the heir-apparent could have a foot both in government and the organisation, a leg up for him that would remove any ambiguity about his being the party mascot for 2014 contest.
Will Rahul Gandhi be the best bet for the party to bring itself out of the morass it finds itself in? In the eight years since he was elected to Parliament from Amethi, he has earned considerable experience and certainty shown a lot of political promise.
Though he was slated to play a prominent role in governance much earlier, he chose instead to work within the organisational ranks of the Congress. This was a tactical and strategic decision on his part that did his public image a lot of good. Slowly but surely he is moving to political centrestage, carving out a constituency for himself among the downtrodden as well as the urban youth. Undoubtedly, he is the leader of the new generation who is capable of carrying the country forward.
Yet, all said and done, Rahul Gandhi has some way to go before he is seen widely as a mass leader justifying his heir-apparent tag. To succeed in politics, one requires good grooming and passion. But of late, the Gandhi scion has been seen to be lacking in both. It is quite apparent that Rahul has been staying away from responsibility despite the strong support that he enjoys. Though the Gandhi scion is projected as the Congress’ great hope, he comes across as a reluctant politician. It almost appears as if the leadership is thrust on him, regardless of his discerned efficiency, capacity and procrastination. His low key profile can only create uncertainty about the future. The longer he takes to come up with solutions to address the prevailing standstill in policy and governance, the more he stands to lose by way of popular goodwill.
Of course, the solution lies with Rahul Gandhi, given the fact that the entire Congress party thinks he is its heir-apparent and to be projected as Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014. Now that he has apparently declared that he is ready to share larger responsibility either in the party or the government, he would do well to end the confusion and lack of sync within the Congress party. So far, he has chosen to go about his engagement with voters by parachuting himself in the middle of one fraught problem after another. As much was clear from the Law Minister Salman Khurshid’s lament that Rahul has so far only shown “cameos” of his thoughts and ideas. He has to show streaks of good leadership, visionary thinking and situational awareness. He must make up his mind. broaden his political engagement and take charge of his waiting party. As it stands today, the nation can ill afford an experiment by forcing leadership on a person who is yet to go a long way in national politics. After all, it was Rahul himself who once said that merit and performance should be the yardsticks for recognition and rewards in the party.
By Sunita Vakil