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Rahul At The Crossroads Being hauled over the coals from within the Congress and from outside

Updated: September 29, 2012 12:03 pm

Political parties across the spectrum have begun moves to find their own political space in the run-up to the general election which is almost two years ago and at the centre of this posturing is Rahul Gandhi who is perceived as leading the Congress charge in 2014 when the country faces the Lok Sabha polls.

While Rahul Gandhi has always been a hot topic of debate with a lot of questions being asked and very few answers available, the first round will decide whether Rahul is moving into the government or finding a bigger role in the Congress or both since there is speculation that a reshuffle of the party and the government is likely this month where the leadership will try and weed out some ministers who have been tainted by the coal scam and promote some young talent as to give a fresh and new impetus to the party.

At least that is what Rahul Gandhi wants. Those close to him aver that he wants a thorough spring cleaning in the states, the party and the government if the Congress has to give a new lease of life to its state governments, and the central government, if it wants to have a serious shot at giving itself a fighting chance of returning to power at the Centre.

While elections to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are due at the end of this year, elections to 11 state assemblies will take place in 2013 and after that it is the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. Rahul’s argument appears to be that the Congress President needs to do some drastic surgery without which the party and government apparatus cannot be helped. He is credited with thinking that cosmetic surgery will not do as the situation for the party has reached a flash point.

But Sonia Gandhi, for reasons best known to herself, does not believe in drastic surgery. She prefers to flow with the tide, never mind the consequences. In such a scenario, where is the scope for Rahul to find a bigger and wider foothold in the party and the government since a number of his suggestions and ideas for action are torpedoed by his mother and the set of advisors who run the Congress party?

The criticism of Rahul is coming from within the Congress for not taking the bold initiative of stepping forward and leading the party and the government and from outside by regional leaders who would like to undermine his political activity before it can grow any further.

The UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav wanted to know just a few days ago why Rahul is not taking on himself a larger role and when he would move ahead to lead the country. And now just two days later, the Samajwadi Party spokesman and general secretary Mohan Singh directly attacked Rahul Gandhi saying he was unfit to lead the country. “Rahul Gandhi lacks the ability to run the country. He has not been able to rise to the challenge”, said Mohan Singh.

As the Samajwadi Party positions itself to cobble together a non-Congress non-BJP front which it hopes to lead by the 2014 elections, Mulayam Singh Yadav who is a strong outside supporter of the UPA has launched a ballistic missile attack on the Congress-led government calling it corrupt, criticising its scams and its directionless policies and at the same time announcing that it is virtually in the opposition.

When the going gets tough for the Congress, swamped as it is with scams and scandals, an atmosphere is sought to be created that the UPA government is on its last legs and could crash at any time. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s statements are part of the grand design to further heighten the instability and the chaos and the directionless drift of the UPA government.

It is interesting that Narendra Modi, who is working with the double-edged agenda of first winning the Gujarat assembly elections and then being projected as the Prime Minister by the NDA, is now doing everything to make it Gujarat versus the Centre election where his main hit would be on Rahul Gandhi in the hope that Rahul would focus on the Gujarat polls. While Modi would like to polarise the election and recreate the fear pychosis of the Gujarat riots in a bid to woo the Hindu votes in the state, the Congress has now decided it would not rake up the 2002 riots issue nor would it be a Rahul versus Modi election.

The Congress strategy is not to rise to Modi’s bait but to focus on power, water, irrigation, heath, rural infrastructure, farming etc and draw attention to the problems of the people rather than make it a high-pitched war of words which can only help Modi. It remains to be seen whether the Congress strategy works in pinning down Modi to the real issues as opposed to the emotion and drama that he wants to keep alive. While Rahul Gandhi would tour Gujarat during the polls, like any other leader, Congress leaders say they would certainly not allow Rahul Gandhi to be drawn into Modi-created controversies.

As Mulayam Singh Yadav pitches for a larger role at the Centre, saying that the Congress cannot come back to power at the Centre as its politicies have led to economic turmoil and widespread corruption and the BJP cannot grow and will not be able to return to power, the fight is over the substantial Muslim vote in UP and elsewhere.

The Samajwadi Party would like to increase its Lok Sabha tally substantially so that it can lead the Third Front and take on the Prime Ministership, but the fear that BJP may return to power or that Modi is ready to come to centre stage, may lead the Muslims to consolidate behind the Congress party just as they did in 2009 when LK Advani was projected as the Prime Minister by the NDA. Mulayam is now working on the theory that with both the Congress and the BJP out, only the SP can lead the country and they need votes and seats to do that.

After a brief lull, Rahul Gandhi is again becoming ready to tour Uttar Pradesh and seek support from the Muslims and other sections. But the question remains whether he will succeed now, having failed earlier. Will he change his strategy or continue to be surrounded by non-political players who may further damage his cause.

Rahul Gandhi is at present at the centre of the Congress storm. A storm which will grow in the weeks and months ahead. The Young Gandhi needs to take crucial decisions now, before it’s too late for both him and the Congress party.

By Renu Mittal

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