Rahul Gandhi has waited for long for his turn to lead the grand old Congress party. Now, with his coronation done, can he live up to the expectation and counter massive challenges ahead and deliver? Has he finally arrived to challenge the Mod-Shah juggernaut?
It has happened finally and the Rahul Gandhi era has begun. Rahul Gandhi, the 47-year-old dynast of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, has been elevated to the Congress top post. The grand old party, which has played an important role in India’s evolution right from India’s freedom struggle to governing the Indian republic for nearly six decades since its independence, has chosen once gain its president from the Nehru family.
Rahul Gandhi, is the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to take charge of the century old party of India. The new president of Congress has taken over the reins of from his mother Sonia Gandhi, who had held the post for unprecedented 19 years since 1998. For 13 years Rahul Gandhi has interned under his mother, Sonia Gandhi and for four years as her deputy and number two in the organisation. His elevation from the ‘Yuvraj’ of Congress to the President of Congress was not at all a surprise.
In a dynastic structure, such elevations are a matter of time and not the performance. Moreover, in a country with a sizable following to dynastic rule and no dearth of sycophants within the party structure, political heirs will be projected as the alternative to succeed despite their true credentials.
The question that remains in everyone’s mind is that is he politically competent to lead from the front? Everyone knows the history of the Congress party, but can he create history as its President? Has really, Rahul Gandhi matured as a competent leader? Can he shoulder such huge responsibility with aplomb? Can he revive the stranded party?
Dismal Track Record
Rahul Gandhi is not an iconic leader. His track record as a leader is not at all promising. Yet, he is regarded by the party as someone with huge credentials to lead the party, though at a difficult time. There are many people with unflinching loyalty to the Nehru family, who strongly believes that he has got all the required credentials to lead Congress to success and he has been virtually waiting, in fact it’s been a pretty long wait, to take over the mantle. But, there are also simmering differences, within the grand old party itself, about his coronation
There is a section of leaders within the Congress openly showing dissent about his leadership. They strongly feels that the move to elevate Rahul would come a cropper and point out his successive debacles that he is not fit for the top job. Actually, the baton was passed to Rahul Gandhi to lead the party during the lead up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Everyone knows about the results that catapulted Narendra Modi as one of the formidable political leaders the post independence the country has seen. It was a humiliating defeat for the Congress as it managed to get just 44 seats out of 543. In fact after that debacle, Congress is losing its credibility election after elections in the last three and half years.
Despite on the losing ground, the party always defended and shielded Rahul Gandhi, its vice-president then. If performance is the yard stick as in the corporates, Rahul Gandhi would have been sent packing long time back. But, the grand old party is not an organisation of reckoning to follow stringent management practices. More evidently, the party structure ensured that Rahul Gandhi, a dynast of the Nehru family is destined to take over the reins of the party one day. Many point out that he has waited more patiently and desperately and now the time has come for him to break the clutches and be more dynamic.
Unfortunately Rahul Gandhi takes over the reins of Congress at a difficult time. With its vote share having plummeted to a historic 19.5 per cent low in 2014, it has a miserable 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. In the fifteen assembly elections held in the past three and half years after BJP’s resounding victory in the general elections in May, 2014, the Congress party has either faced defeat or failed to make any impact. Worst, after Modi came to power; Congress has even lost several of its strongholds such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Kerala, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The saffron party also unseated Akhilesh Yadav's government in India's largest state Uttar Pradesh.
Ever since Modi took charge, BJP has never looked back. Though, BJP lost Delhi and Bihar, but again here Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar were the challengers not the Congress. Today Congress is left with power in just 4 states after BJP's victory in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. On the other hand, the BJP now has governments in 19 states across the country.
With more defeats than victories, Rahul Gandhi's track record is far from impressive. His critics even accused him of appearing disinterested in the party - and politics in general. The challenges that Rahul Gandhi bound to face are of Himalayan proportions. The task of revamping Congress party and restore its lost glory as a national party to reckon with are huge and demands not only astute leadership qualities but also tactful negotiation skills.
Can He Deliver?
A true leader is the one who is not afraid of taking the responsibility for the decisions of the party and equally accept constructive blame for things that go wrong. Rahul Gandhi is known to evade responsibilities. He has been in active politics for well over a decade now. Can he emerge and come out from being a reluctant politician to lead the grand old party to success?
Having born in a highly influential political family with tremendous clout, Rahul Gandhi has lived like a Prince and does not take ownership of any debacles the party had witnessed. He is not a full time politician and who surfaces only whenever he chooses to. If he can shine only in controlled conditions, how can he rule this diverse country?
A leader must be always being visible and approachable to his party people. One of the general complaints about Rahul Gandhi is that he is not easily approachable. He has always had with a small group of loyal supporters Moreover, he prefers to remain in conditions that better suits him and very selective on the issue of concern to speak his mind. He is not known to take hard decisions. The most important quality in a leader is the ability to break out of his circle and take in a diverse range of opinions which is a mark of a leader especially in a country as diverse as India.
Rahul Gandhi has never been a full-time politician and that has infused several criticisms by the opposition parties and within Congress as well. But after taking over the mantle he has to change and apply himself more intuitively. It will be interesting to see how he copes up with such a big responsibility.
The New Era
Many political pundits agree that the time has come to infuse new blood in the Congress system as currently, Congress party looks completely stranded and is at the bottom of the political fortunes. Considering the state of affairs, Rahul Gandhi has the daunting task of restructuring the party completely from the top that includes rebuilding strong leadership in the states.
On the day of the coronation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress President, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said that Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief will sustain the “politics of hope” which is needed by the country and not allow the “politics of fear” to take over. Singh obviously referred BJP as “politics of fear” and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is expected to bring a new sense of dedication and commitment which will steer the party to greater heights of glory, It is not only Singh’s wish , but many in the Congress are desperately pinning their hopes on Rahul Gandhi for such a turnaround
Soon after taking over the reins of Congress, Rahul Gandhi said that his plan is to transform the Congress from bottom upwards and he will like to bring in many new, young, exciting and dynamic faces. In the last three years, Rahul Gandhi has relied on veterans to device strategies, and placed his favourites in significant positions in the states. But now with Rahul Gandhi at the helm of affairs, one can sense that he will build a team with other younger politicians like him. There is already a subtle change in the Congress now. Several youngsters have been promoted within the organisational hierarchy, and they are working closely with senior leaders. The way he united Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor Jignesh Mewani stands testimony to this. Even in Uttar Pradesh, he was more comfortable joining hands with Akilesh Yadav.
Rahul Gandhi still remains untainted. Despite scepticism about his leadership abilities, there is a sense of anticipation about Rahul Gandhi. He is very much in a transient phase now. True he is consciously working on his new image, shedding behind all those failures. He wants to be sound more positive and more vibrant. He is not an eloquent speaker but he appears to be looks focused now. It is a clear signal that he has readying himself to face the challenges.
Political analysts point out the marked change in Rahul Gandhi which was very much evident in the Gujarat election campaign and it reaffirmed that Rahul Gandhi cannot be completely dismissed out as a flop. Moreover, it was indeed different in the way he campaigned in Uttar Pradesh elections. Many point out that, on most occasions during the election campaigns, he decided to speak his own scripts rather than taking the diktats from senior Congress leaders.
But still a long way to go, really to reassert himself as a tall leader. He must focus and tune his effort towards a re-building process. He has to make sure that the grand old party adopts to the modern day political demands that transcends beyond the limits of the family run organisation.
The challenges Ahead
Rahul Gandhi needs to create the new Congress with a complete revamping in the organisational process and internal democracy. But, it is a tough task and it involves a whole lot of things such as experience, skill set, loyalty, planning and importantly the ability to execute as per the plan. Moreover, historically, Congress has more leaders and than its cadres and at every stage Rahul Gandhi need to overcome resistance from the old guard and at the same time manage them as well.
In his attempt to build a core team, Rahul Gandhi need to take in to consideration of the existing strong leaders at the state-level and end factional fights. There are indeed leaders in various states who are capable of motivating the grassroots workers. More importantly, he need to create core constituencies and systematically widen the party's appeal among certain communities and groups. In the process he has to exercise caution that the effort needs to be experimental, must be open to mistakes and behave non-authoritarian.
So far Rahul Gandhi has not been able to offer a concrete political or economic vision. It is time he has to understand the impact of specific issues and need to be more decisive. He needs to set up a set of task forces to advise him on various issues such as economic policies, informal economy, agriculture, industries, education and environment.
It is pertinent for Rahul Gandhi to not only improve the Congress tally, but build alliances in a manner that the combined vote share of the opposition parties can bridge the gap between them and BJP. In the longer run, Rahul is hoping to forge an alliance of Opposition parties against the BJP with the likes of the SP's Akilesh Yadav, RJD's Tejashwi Yadav AAP’s Kejriwal, DMK's Stalin and Mamta’s Trinamool Congress.
But, still let us not forget the tactful move by BJP to break the much hyped Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan. Besides, the real test in fighting the BJP lies not only in bringing the opposition together but act as a mediator and work for a patch up between the bitter rivals such as the TMC and Left in West Bengal and the BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh.
Meeting the Modi challenge
Rahul Gandhi's greatest challenge lies not only in his ability to take on the mighty BJP but also to emerge as a credible alternative to brand Narendra Modi, currently to most politically vibrant brand in the country. However, he is up against the formidable political charisma of Narendra Modi and the result-oriented strategist named Amit Shah combined with the energised cadres of the RSS.
Under Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP has been rampant. Even after 40 months in office, Modi’s stature as a clean leader who delivers with a mission and vision is intact. His popularity is stratospherically higher than the combined acceptability of all political leaders including his own party.
Having assumed the reins of the party, Rahul Gandhi has to shed his inconsistent, mercurial or aloof nature. It is no more a privilege and he need to be more visible as well as approachable. It is time that Rahul Gandhi has to lay down an alternative roadmap for the future development . He has to take leaders of his own party in to confidence and evolve a distinct style of leadership and deliver tangible results.
Though, the improved performances in the recent Gujarat election by the Congress, has given enough indications that Rahul Gandhi may become the principal challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 polls, the fact remains that the journey ahs just commenced and there is still a long way to go. To reach the destination, Rahul Gandhi has to take specific steps to bind opposition parties in its fight against BJP and Modi and make the Congress party, back as India’s pre-eminent political party.