Coming Of Age

Can Rahul change Congress?

By Poonam I Kaushish

It is the coming of age season in political Delhi. Whereby, the campaign in Gujarat underscores the second debut of Rahul who is all set to take over as Congress President at a time when the Party has hit rock bottom. Happily, his electioneering has shown a drastically different image of him, in stark contrast from his past: visiting temples, seeking blessings and spouting stinging one-liners against his bête noire.
Yet, even as there is palpable relief that he has finally become serious after nearly 12 years of ‘disappearing and dithering’ juxtaposed with “I am anti-dynasty” and “power is poison” eruptions, many wonder how long the ‘runaway prince’s earnest stint will last given his staccato outbursts and political- organisational experiments as ‘de facto leader’
Undoubtedly, given Congressmen’s Gandhi’s obsession Rahul will surely act as the glue in a Party with giant sized egos and opinions. Moreover, it is better late than never to formalise the inevitable transition than live in a lingering state of organisational confusion and drift. The new confidence in Rahul stems from his recent pronouncements in US and domestic tours. Make no mistake his elevation marks the beginning of the “Modi Vs Rahul 2019 battle”.
Further, with Modi’s development plank floundering coupled with rising unemployment, economic slowdown, GST pains, farmers distress etc are proving to be Rahul’s political propeller which is giving the Party a ray of hope. Add to this the social fault-lines with the minorities and Dalits upset over the Sangh Parivar’s overdrive.
Certainly, Sonia has been working on this since her ladla’s coronation Vice-President at the 2013 Jaipur AICC session and his ascendency is her dream come true with her now shifting to being his mentor and guide.
But the moot point is: In a Party which banks and draws sustenance and energy from the Nehru-Gandhi brand, what is Rahul’s vision, ideas and direction to provide a new disha and a fresh sandesh to take India forward? Does he have the guts and leadership to revamp a Party caught between old timers and his new blood brood? Become a catalyst of an amorphous Party? Are winds of change sweeping the moribund 131-year-old Grand Old Party? Or will he remain our desi Hamlet?
The Congress has put itself where it cannot survive without him. In fact, the Party is today saddled with small time netas who at best can come up with tokenism and “me-tooism”. Whereby, it has become a prisoner of the highly personalized, even feudal, functioning and outlook. Only those who serve loyalty flourish in the “nomination culture”.
The most unpleasant aspect of all this is the withering of internal democracy. It has made the Party hopelessly dependent on initiative from above and tragically immobile in its absence. Being political parasites, they cannot survive on their own and are as loyal as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
Succinctly diagnosed by a senior leader, “Rahul is sincere, sharply focused and strongly believes in deliverance and output.” But is this enough? Given that he will face a complex situation while establishing his status. Others argue that the Party has touched its nadir and can only climb up. In their perception Modi’s popularity seems to have peaked and could begin to drop. Yet, they have their fingers crossed as the Gujarat outcome would show whether the Party is headed north or south.
Also, the perennially hopeful Congress believes that its 2014 meltdown can be nursed back with time, political imagination and a lot of luck. They are banking on the time-tested desi theory of political gravity which seasoned politicians in the business of experimenting with power along-with search of political forgiveness and electoral redemption believe in — no political high-ride can last smoothly forever. Similarly, no crash-landing can be permanently crippling in the periodic love-hate reflexes of Indian voters.
Asserted another senior leader, “Experience shows whenever a Government begins to disappoint people, they turn to the Congress as the natural Party of governance which remains the default system of Indian politics that nobody can wish away. Our electoral history stands testimony to this.”
However, all is not honky dory given that the Party and the Gandhis’ now face unprecedented existential crisis and political challenges, especially when pitted against the ruthless Modi-Amit Shah-led BJP. The task is a steep uphill as Rahul suffers from an image crisis, aloofness, self-defeating reluctance, political experiments, dithering decision-making etc.
The Party would need to work overtime to rid him of the Pappu’ tagline and pay back in the same coin: Trash-the-rival. And if the apolitical foreign-origin Sonia could master her rival’s game and come up trumps why can’t Rahul? It has a social media team to match the BJP fire of BJP which is putting across Gandhi’s and Congress’ counter perspective and highlighting the Modi Government’s failures.
However, first Rahul has to pass the internal test to prove his leadership, organisational and political acumen, especially in rebuilding the Congress in States across the country, specially the Hindu heartland where it has been decimated. All eyes are on his performance in the Assembly polls enroute the next Lok Sabha elections.
This is all the more imperative as most of Rahul’s solo initiatives since 2013 like holding Youth Congress elections, distancing himself from senior leaders and cosying up to lightweight neo-Congress converts’, election strategists read Prashant Kishore have boomeranged. Thereby, creating tensions among battle-hardened senior leaders who are by-products of the Indira-Sanjay school of real politik and propelled up by his status-quoist Sonia who dismiss a bookish approach as a non-starter.
The past many months Gandhi has been making an effort in consultations with many seniors to harmonise the internal equations through a give-and-take collective leadership team to face the Modi-led BJP combine. This marks a balancing act —— acknowledging the wisdom in retaining many with wealth of experience and the need to empower the younger future team.
“There is room for both seniors and youngsters in the party. Yet, with most senior leaders now in their late 60s or 70s, it is an occupational hazard to empower a younger team for the inevitable generational shift,” said a Party functionary.
Undeniably, Rahul will face a complex situation while establishing his leadership. The timid mindset which has been developed over the years in the Congress, which attaches a premium to loyalty and sycophancy, will be hard to counter. The darbari culture, which he seems allergic to, can’t be genuinely replaced without his own credentials coming under scrutiny. Hence, Rahul will have to be less radical as he establishes himself.
True, he is fighting against his legacy with earnestness but his success will depend on how he acts on changing the moribund Party replete with feudal mindset and move beyond the politics of entitlement, in to a Gen Next organization to fulfil the surging aspirations of the aam aadmi rearing to go.
Having taken expectations sky high with his words, promises and a pledge to put systems right within the Congress, it remains to be seen how much he will be able to deliver and how it will impact his future politics if he is unable to deliver what he has promised. Will he be the Party’s Kohli and lead it to victory? Remember, politics is a heartless and unforgiving mistress. —— INFA