The son also rises

Rahul Gandhi takes over as the Congress President

Business & Politics

December 5, 2017

/ By / New Delhi



Can Rahul Gandhi bring a change in Congress? (PC: Abid Bhat/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Can Rahul Gandhi bring a change in Congress? (PC: Abid Bhat/Hindustan Times; Getty Images)

Rahul Gandhi, scion of India’s most enduring political dynasty will now preside over the 132-year old Indian National Congress. The ‘crown’ of president poses several challenges for Rahul Gandhi. Will he sink or lead the party? Only time will tell.

Rahul Gandhi, vice president, is all set to be declared as the next president of the Indian National Congress. He will be the fifth from his family at the helm of the party, predominantly presided by his family, which was founded by Allan Octavian Hume in 1885.

It is a foregone conclusion that Rahul Gandhi is going to head the party. The only question was when he will don the mantle. Most political parties in India make such decisions on the basis of consensus rather than elections. In case of the Indian National Congress, the choice is imposed by the party high command and its coterie.  Similarly, in the BJP, the president is elected through a single nomination, with the tacit approval of its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh.

Nevertheless, both the political parties are giving a spin to the lack of internal democracy in each other’s camp.

However, the BJP too is jubilant at the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as the president of Congress party.

“It is a boon come true for BJP.  Gandhi will help the BJP decimate the Congress,” says Dr Suvrokamal Dutta an economist and a political critic.

Dr Dutta says the Congress party is in the grip of the beehive syndrome, where there is one queen bee and the remaining are worker bees.

What does Rahul Gandhi’s elevation mean?

It brings down the curtain on Sonia Gandhi’s era. She led the party and its campaigns successfully from the front and ensured ten uninterrupted years in power at the Centre.

The elevation of Rahul Gandhi comes at a time when its fortunes have touched an all-time new low. The party is ruling only in five states—Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

Gandhi, 47 a three-time member of Parliament is descendent of the makers of modern India. His great-grandfather was India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His grandmother was the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, while his father was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Of course, his mother Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress, remote controlled the UPA governments headed by Dr Manmohan Singh and has now passed on the baton to him.

Political battles ahead

His first litmus test is the Gujarat elections.  Also, his elevation comes at a time when the Congress has the lowest ever tally in the Lok Sabha. The Party has lost its superiority in the Rajya Sabha for the first time.

The question is, whether Rahul Gandhi can strategise to win elections against the winning machine of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah — two of the master strategists.

Gandhi is presently spearheading the Congress campaign ahead of the Gujarat Assembly polls on the December 9 and 14. When votes will be counted on 18 December, the verdict will be equally applicable to Rahul Gandhi as well.

More challenges await Gandhi and his team next year. Retaining Karnataka and dethroning the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will be a daunting task for him. Then comes the bigger battle— the 2019 general elections.

Seize Initiatives:  Gandhi who has been the reluctant prince has to learn, according to political observers, to seize initiatives and anticipate big issues.   So far, Rahul Gandhi’s performance has not only been dull but also irregular. He has to regularly participate in Parliamentary debates on the economy, foreign affairs and key policy issues.

Rebuild the organisation
One of the complaints against Rahul Gandhi is his inaccessibility. Rank and file often complain about him being inaccessible to them. This has already alienated the people from the Party and created a crisis of confidence. Now that he has become the Party president he should be available and accessible.

He has to get the house in order in the key states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where it has ceded political space to rivals.

With the decimation of the Congress across India, the realisation must dawn on him that a Party cannot be built over a day. The Cambridge graduate is known to prefer the corporate style of leadership and functioning. But it is a time he remembers that the Congress Party is a political party.

Form a Rainbow Coalition

Gandhi has to reach out more to other political parties. He will require their help in 2019.  He is close to the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav.

Yet, he has to reach out to others ahead of the 2019 General Elections as Sonia Gandhi did during her tenure as the Congress president.  For this, he has to show enough maturity, otherwise, it would not be possible to defeat Modi’s juggernaut.

Constant Connect: Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have to learn to champion the cause of the millions of Indians who dream of enjoying the basic necessities of life. Perhaps, they can take a leaf out of Modi and Shah’s strategies.

Twin Challenges

In the coming months, India will witness volatile political debates, as it did during the post-Mandal agitation and post-Babri Masjid demolition.

The twin issues that will test the political mettle of Rahul Gandhi as the president of the Congress are the Ram Janma Bhoomi issue and the reservations for the Other Backward Classes.  A three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice Dipak Misra will begin to hear the final arguments in the Ayodhya case beginning December 5. Arguments will generate debates. He has to decide without alienating the Hindus and the Muslims. It will be a huge challenge for Rahul Gandhi and his team.

Secondly, the BJP is trying to consolidate its support among the lower other backward classes (OBCs) by setting up an OBC sub-categorisation committee.  The Committee set up in October this year is headed by Chairperson-Justice (Retd.) G Rohini.

The move is to split the OBCs into two or three categories, each of which will then be apportioned a percentage of the 27 pc of government jobs and seats in educational institutes reserved for the socially and educationally backward classes.

The OBCs can be divided into Extremely Backward Classes (Group A), More Backward Classes (Group B), and Backward Classes (Group C). The 27 pc can then be split into, say, 15 pc for Group A, 8 pc for Group B, and 4 pc for Group C.  The BJP’s popularity is rising amongst the lower OBCs.  Now the challenge for Gandhi is to take the parties, such as BSP, Samajwadi Party or RJD and the OBCs along with him.

Time will tell whether Rahul Gandhi will devise a new strategy to lead this party or else fritter away the opportunity. Either way, he will ensure a place in history!

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