Anybody who follows politics cannot have missed one recent development – Rahul Gandhi’s new political avatar. Rahul has started speaking out ‘regularly’ on current issues, he has started expressing his opinions, and he has started taking a stand on contentious issues. This may have seemed implausible just a few months back. As they say, a week is a long time in politics. Indeed!
Before delving into the motives or the causes of this change of heart for the heir apparent of the Congress party, it would be a good idea to reflect on the change. The original Rahul Gandhi did take a stand on some issues, but that has always been few and far between; mostly, never followed up with any substantial action on the ground. His visits to the homes of Dalits in villages, or his visit to Bhatta Parsaul in the wake of land acquisition controversy in Uttar Pradesh, or his expression of support for the tribals of the Niyamgiri Hills while simultaneously expressing support for the industrialists for speedier project clearances, and other such one-off acts have not won him much credibility. However, his recent public outbursts on issues like the Adarsh scam, ordinance on convicted lawmakers, Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377, and his support for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, have all come as a welcome change.
Not only has Rahul Gandhi taken a stand on contentious issues lately, he has also followed them up with action. His speech at the recent AICC meet is a case in point. Rahul raised the issue of increasing the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders from nine to 12. Another remarkable thing about the speech was that this can safely be considered as his best so far. It had the grit, the determination and the agenda that have usually been lacking in his previous speeches. Many have termed this speech as a tiger roaring in his den; however, we cannot take away all the credit from him.
Rahul Gandhi and his party seem to be making a conscious effort at projecting him as the face and future of the Congress party. The party’s decision of making him the chief of the Lok Sabha election campaign, is a big decision for somebody who has always been seen to be shirking away from taking responsibility. Some Congress supporters may refute this claim by pointing out that Rahul did own up for the failure of the party in Uttar Pradesh’s assembly elections. However, it came across as no more than public posturing as he was promoted in the following months. Nevertheless, it is commendable that Rahul has agreed to be the captain of a (likely) sinking ship; a courageous act indeed.
The moot question that many have been asking is whether Rahul Gandhi is the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party, or not. The party has clarified its stand on this and has done so very strategically. It knows Rahul’s standing vis-à-vis Narendra Modi is not very strong in terms of experience or on-the-ground achievements, so it has smartly taken a different stand and has made him the leader of the election campaign. The party has taken a decision that the prime ministerial candidate would be decided by the elected MPs post the elections as is mandated by our Constitution. This way, the party can use the Gandhi surname while at the same time keeping the doors open for a Sonia-Manmohan like arrangement post the elections. What a smart way of reinventing the role of Rahul Gandhi!
So, how does one view the recent developments as regards Rahul Gandhi? Has he actually come of age? Has his party chosen him on merit, or yet again for the ‘Gandhi’ surname? How have the recent developments gone down with the public at large? How would these impact the upcoming general elections?
Contrary to what many Congress think-tanks may hope for, the people at large do not seem to be swayed by Rahul’s reinvention. It is a perfect case of too little, too late. Had Rahul Gandhi done all this a few years back, it would have carried some weight. However, coming as it is so close to the elections, people cannot be blamed for being sceptical. If Rahul sustains this change, then may be the people will call it a genuine development; the fruits of which can only be seen in the elections post 2014.
In a way, this move shows the Congress party in poor light, yet again. It shows that like always, the Congress’ fortunes are tied to the ‘Gandhi’ surname, and that the Gandhis call the shots in all spheres.
If one were to think about it, the party did not have many other options. Therefore, it is clearly a case of making a virtue out of a necessity; a development that cannot possibly bear fruits in the upcoming elections.
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)