Being Rahul Gandhi
There could obviously be not just one reason to look at him. Age on his side, following behind him, and is most important, is the surname that is almost synonymous with Indian politics—Gandhi. Hence, Rahul is now no more a man to be ridiculed. His political obituary was written even before he announced his intention to don Khadi ahead of 2004 parliamentary elections. But in just six years, he has proved that he is in total command of the ruling party. Whether it was merely his surname that brought him to the present status is the question that still divides political pundits.
The 39-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family made his debut in politics when the Congress was almost in tatters. A high voltage “Shining India” campaign was unleashed by Pramod Mahajan—the articulate and suave chief strategist of the NDA—for the 2004 elections. Every political mind was struggling with the other to predict the return of the NDA government. The economy was on up, middle class had no reason to be annoyed with the government. Still, Atal Behari Vajpayee could not retain to the 7, Race Course Road.
The gap between the “Shining India” and the “Rising India” was apparently the reason behind the debacle of the NDA government. Rahul was allowed to graduate in the organisation and the Congress managers succeeded in creating a distinction between the government and the party—something that the BJP leaders could not do between 1998 and 2004.
Every time prices burn holes in the pocket of the common man or there was a problem with National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Rahul was seen rushing to Prime Minister, although he obviously had no reason to oblige and act on the dotted line. It is widely speculated in the corridors of the power that the entire event used to be planned.
Rahul is backed by a team of new generation of professionals-turned-politicians who came out with new ideas (obviously pertaining to his image-building exercise) every time it was required. Young bloods were given tickets—most of them won—and while seniors went into the government, the new faces were promoted in the organisation. Political observers admit that the move managed to take the wind out of BJP’s sails. From being a party of
youngsters in 1996—Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj, Shahnawaj Hussain, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and many more—Congress’ main rival, the BJP started looking like a gathering of grey-haired leaders by 2004.
The change could be brought out because unlike the BJP, the Congress was able to bring in more young faces—Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasad, Deependra Hooda, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Priya Dutt, Milind Deora and many more. Team Rahul obviously had an edge over the BJP’s Gen-X at a time when youth took the centre stage of Indian politics.
On the contrary, the BJP failed to produce another set of leaders which was as young as its Congress counterpart and had some kind of a charisma. Most of the Congress leaders groomed in the last six or seven years have come from political families having a stronghold in their respective regions. Apparently, they were more acquainted with the masses than the set of leaders that the BJP produced.
A radiating Lal Singh, Congress MP from Jammu and Kashmir, admitting Rahul’s charisma, affirmed, “Yes, we are proud of Rahulji. We can boast of him. Who is there in the BJP they can be proud of?” What Lal Singh said in the Lok Sabha might appear to be too close to sycophancy, but it is certainly a bitter pill to swallow for the opposition parties, as they do not have charismatic faces from dynasties synonymous with Indian politics.
Rahul must not be deprived of the credit of embarking on Bharat Ki Khoj (Discovery of India) when most of the younger leaders in other parties preferred to play a strategist or be a part of what is popularly known as drawing-room politics. Congress rose from its ashes in Uttar Pradesh in this year’s parliamentary elections and the credit undoubtedly goes to Rahul, who ate and slept in and toured the Dalit bastis of Uttar Pradesh—much to the agony of Dalit diva and UP Chief Minister Mayawati.
The BSP, which successfully stitched up an unimaginable alliance of Dalits and Brahmins in the 2007 assembly elections, could not hold on to the support base, as, political pundits note, Rahul magic managed to eat into her Dalit votes with his Bharat Ki Khoj programme. Rahul’s strategy to go alone in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar—once the citadels of the Congress—has thrown up mixed responses and the Congress strategists are backing the idea of continuing with the experiment.
In the process, Congress sources reveal, Rahul has managed to clip the wings of many Congress men such as Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who had acquired the status of super powerful backroom boy. It is widely speculated that Patel and several other senior leaders have failed to have their say in many important decisions, like selection of Maharashtra and Haryana Chief Ministers recently, with Rahul in full command of his party.
Rahul will apparently have a difficult choice to make. The outcome of the recent by-elections in Uttar Pradesh has come as a big embarrassment for the Congress after the Bahujan Samaj Party completely swept the poll. Rahul magic did not work this time. In the meantime, it also lost an ally—the Samajwadi Party—which extended a helping hand to survive the crisis that erupted after the Left parties had withdrawn the support from the UPA government-I over the nuclear deal.
Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh is just one year and a couple of months away from now. The BSP is holding on to its support base. The SP will remain a force to reckon with. The Congress expects to repeat its 2009 parliamentary election magic in the election poll.
Then Bihar will go to poll by the end of the next year and given the popularity of the NDA government, Rahul’s prestige would be at stake. All his attempts to revive the organisation in the state have not returned much dividend and the two former allies of the UPA—RJD and LJP—are sworn enemies now. Rahul has toured Tamil Nadu, which will go to poll in a couple of years, and the congress-ally DMK is already keeping its fingers crossed. West Bengal will be an important state to look out for and the Congress will leave no stone unturned to regain Punjab, which again goes to poll in 2012. Himachal and Uttarakhand will follow suit.
The king-in-waiting will evidently have his finger crossed, and so will the Congress.
By Nupur Priyadarshini