Can He Deliver?
Even as speculation has intensified on what would be the contours of Rahul Gandhi’s bigger role in the days to come, the young leader has sent the first message that he is ready to assert himself and would be more hands on in the days and months ahead.
For the first time, young ministers known to be close to Rahul Gandhi have been drafted for party work and made members of the just-announced screening committees for the states of Himachal Pradesh, Tripura and Gujarat, the three states going to the polls at the end of the year. And the fact that the screening committees, which select candidates and make a final shortlist before the names go to the central election committee have been announced in July, is a new development in the Congress party and a sigh that Rahul has had his way in the early selection of candidates.
Jitender Singh, who is an MP from Rajasthan and MoS Home has been made a member of the screening committee for Himachal Pradesh, Jitin Prasad, MP from UP and MoS in the Ministry of Roads and Surface Transport is a member of the screening committee for Tripura and RPN Singh MP from UP is MoS in Petroleum is a member of the screening committee for Gujarat.
This has happened for the first time in many years. The normal practice was for Sonia Gandhi to rotate the same faces, many of whom have never contested or even won elections in their life. Here all three are Lok Sabha MPs.
Even while appointing the chairmen of the screening committees—Sheila Dikshit for Himachal Pradesh, Tarun Gogoi for Tripura and CP Joshi for Gujarat—there is an attempt to bring in experienced Chief Ministers who have won the states repeatedly and not let ani-incumbency overwhelm them. Sheila Dikshit is in her third term as Delhi Chief Minister while Tarun Gogoi won Assam twice with an increased margin.
Sources say in the case of Union Minister CP Joshi, considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi, the message appears to be that Rahul himself would be handling the Gujarat election where the party feels it is on a better wicket than earlier and it is looking at a real-time chance to defeat Narendra Modi, the biggest Hindutva mascot of the BJP. Gujarat leaders feel it is crucial not to err in the selection of tickets and while the state leadership cannot match up to the image and stature of Modi, Rahul Gandhi is expected to play a bigger role in the Gujarat election.
Being Rahul Gandhi
ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES
- Youthful image.
- Belongs to the oldest political party that played a historic role in the fight for India’s independence and that has produced more national and political icons than any other political party in India.
- Belongs to a party that has a much larger reservoir of GenNext youthful figures and minds than any other party.
- Belongs to a party that still has a modicum of idealism as a motivating factor. One has to search in vain for the slightest trace of idealism in other political parties, which are largely cynical seekers of power.
- Belongs to a party that gave two electrifying slogans that brought many of us under its flag in our youth—“Quit India” under Mahatma Gandhi and “Garibi Hatao” under Indira Gandhi.
- Belongs to a party that enjoys more the empathy of the minorities than any other political party.
- Belongs to the only political party that has a pan-Indian presence, mind-set and impact.
- His perceived inability to do any original thinking and come out with any original ideas on the problems confronting India and on the issues of concern to the youth.
- His public image of diffidence and lacking in thoughtful impulses.
- His political and policy impulses are yet to be demonstrated and felt.
- His perceived image of a leader lacking in seriousness of thought and action.
- When one meets Rahul Gandhi face to face, he doesn’t leave a lasting impact on one’s mind.
- His weaknesses in articulation and his perceived inability to establish thought-provoking vibrations either with the public or the media. No political leader can succeed unless he is able to make an impact on the minds of the public and the media.
- When Indira Gandhi entered politics under Jawaharlal Nehru and the Government under Lal Bahadur Shastri and when Rajiv Gandhi entered politics under Indira and the Government after her assassination, they did not have to face the kind of intense media scrutiny that Rahul Gandhi faces today. He cannot expect to make an impact on the media and on the public by continuing to keep away from the media.
- His inability and that of his party to understand the new Youth Power of the online world and establish a mental equation with it.
- His couldn’t care less attitude and that of his party towards the old, new and constantly evolving media is proving counter-productive. The Media Power to make and unmake images is little understood in the Congress Party.
- The failure of his selective forays into politics—whether in UP, Bihar or elsewhere. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure.
- His inability and that of Sonia Gandhi to build up a team of competent political, economic, foreign policy and national security advisers in the party.
- Energise the GenNext of the party, give them roles that would excite them and insist on performance.
- Build up a team of competent advisers and encourage and motivate them to identify issues that need urgent attention and come out with workable ideas as to how to deal with those issues.
- Give new goalposts for the party and the people such as “Corruption Hatao”, “Make The Public Places Safe For Women” etc and work sincerely towards achieving them. Mobilise youth and women power for achieving them.
- Modernise media relations. Be more available for on-the-record interactions with the media. Make yourself accessible to the TV media which plays a more important role in building images and perceptions of clear thinking and energetic leadership than any other section of the media. Pay more attention to the New Youth Power of the online world.
- Travel more frequently in India and to countries where the Indian diaspora is playing an active role in trying to influence political thought and action in India through the Internet.
- Improve your style of articulation and public speaking.
- Pronounce yourself more frequently and more impactfully on issues of national interest in the public and parliament and through the media.
- Don’t get obsessed with NaMo. Ignore him. Let others in the party counter him.
- Don’t take over the leadership for campaigning in the forthcoming State elections as in Gujarat. Designate others in the Party to do that and guide them.
By B Raman
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai)
Party leaders say that Rahul will continue to keep one foot in the party and more of this is likely to be seen when the AICC reshuffle takes place where the emphasis and selection would be on younger leaders, prominent caste representatives as well as those who have been known as performers. Sonia Gandhi made the AICC a haven of failed Chief Ministers who were given rooms in the party headquarters as and when they lost elections. An example is Ashok Gehlot who after he lost Rajasthan was made AICC general secretary and after the party returned to power in the state he packed his bags and returned to Rajasthan as Chief Minister.
There have been very few examples of Sonia Gandhi bringing in new and varied faces, remaining content to run the party with the same faces playing musical chairs.
There is also speculation that Rahul Gandhi would be joining the government as a union minister. This has led to fears in certain quarters that the arrival of a Gandhi in the cabinet would furthur undermine the authority of the Prime Minister who is already running on low battery. Instead of Rahul becoming the catalyst which can recharge the battery, the fear is his presence may serve to pull the plug from the socket.
He would and could become an alternate power centre with every minister looking to him for approval and making moves to ensure closeness to the man who is seen as the future Prime Minister of India. As one wag commented: look at a situation where Rahul is in a cabinet meeting. Would anyone listen to the Prime Minister? That, say insiders, is a real danger where governance can be further hit. It is already at a premium with the government having lost its chief troubleshooter to Rashtrapati Bhawan, where a senior and wily ally is flexing his muscles and is likely to continue this (on and off) till the next election, where the Prime Minister does not want to give up Finance portfolio while Sonia Gandhi wants P Chidambaram to be given charge of Finance, where the growth rate is down, where prices of essential commodities are shooting through the roof, where the government is hammered by various elements on the issues of corruption, and where there is an overall policy paralysis and a sense of status quo.
The impression is that while it makes no difference whether the PM holds Finance or P Chidambaram does (since both have nothing new to offer), what would be significant is whether the arrival of Rahul Gandhi in the government would mark any critical changes in its overall functioning?
Rahul Gandhi for the last few years has been in active politics and has kept a low profile, preferring not to meddle in matters which don’t concern him. As far as the government is concerned, he is being seen as an apprentice who would like to learn that ropes of administration and the nitty-gritty of government functioning. Would he assert himself in such a situation? Would he and could he be an asset to a Prime Minister who has a limited role to play in his own government? These are questions still being debated as the Gandhi family continues to be withdrawn and restrained in allowing the speculation to go on but not offering any real answers to what they see as the role of Rahul Gandhi.
While no one is in any doubt of the fact that more than Rahul himself, Sonia Gandhi is in a hurry that he should join the government, for which he was himself extremely reluctatnt till just the other day, it now appears to have dawned on the family that with the government overloaded with crisis, and with the party failing to enthuse its workers or showing signs of winning state elections, time appears to be at a premium if UPA has to come back to power.
By Renu Mittal