“Will he?”; “Won’t he?”; These are questions often asked with reference to Rahul Gandhi’s candidature for prime ministership sometime in future. For many, it is not even “Will he?” but, “When will he?” People cannot be blamed for this premature conclusion, given the history of Indian politics and the obsession with dynasty rule.
The issue of Rahul Gandhi becoming the PM in future was brought to the forefront yet again thanks to Nitish Kumar and the recently concluded Bihar elections. During the election campaign in Bihar, Nitish Kumar had commented on Rahul Gandhi’s inexperience and lack of awareness about the ground reality in India. He also said that Rahul Gandhi should first try to become the chief minister of a state before aspiring to become the PM of our country. On the face of it, it may seem like yet another case of political upmanship but, this statement carries a deeper meaning.
The statement shows that not only the common man but even political stalwarts like Nitish Kumar have taken it for granted that Rahul Gandhi would become the PM of our country some day. However, the catch lies in the irony. On one hand Nitish Kumar, like many others, accepts the fact that Rahul Gandhi would become the PM, on the other hand he says that he is not qualified for the post. This is a sad story of the Indian political system where many times factors other than qualifications or, eligibility play a major role in deciding the leaders of our country.
This brings us to the question - does Rahul Gandhi deserve to be the PM of our country, if so he desires in future? Further, what is Rahul Gandhi doing to become fit for the post other than his ‘Gandhi’ surname? The latter question conveniently makes some assumptions about certain events in future that have a high probability of occurrence.
Rahul Gandhi was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in one of the most powerful families of India and perhaps, even the world. He should be credited with the fact that he never took his position for granted and never has he or any of his family members been seen suggesting that he is the heir apparent to the PM’s post. He has never taken undue advantage of his position and power. Thus, he deserves praise for this.
Politics is a very complex field that involves leading and managing a vast multitude of people, both from rural and urban backgrounds. India is a huge country with a rich history. Anybody who wants to enter politics needs to be able to connect with the common man, be aware of the ground reality, have a mind of his/ her own, show some leadership qualities and above all, work for the public good.
Rahul Gandhi is going all out to connect with the common man. He has been seen interacting with students, travelling in local trains, standing in queues for the Commonwealth Games tickets, attending the wedding of Sushil Kumar (the wrestler), eating at a Dalit family’s house, drinking a cup of tea at a poor villager’s house while campaigning in Bihar etc. All these are symbolic gestures by him to show that he is one of us. So far, so good.
During the recent crisis in Kashmir when Omar Abdullah was being targeted from all ends, Rahul Gandhi stood by him and made public his faith in Omar’s leadership. During a visit to Shantiniketan, on being asked about visiting West Bengal as the PM, Rahul replied that becoming the prime minister was not the only job in the world. He knows how to speak his mind indeed.
Rahul Gandhi has displayed some political acumen at times that can go a long way in establishing his political career. He is taking a personal interest in attracting the young through the Youth Congress and in reviving the Congress in states where it is weak. His recent act of celebrating Eid in Amethi cannot be ignored. It sends out strong signals to the people at large that the Congress party stands for secularism. Then, acts of eating with the common man like Dalits or the villagers are also aimed at spreading the message that for the Congress, all are equal.
Earlier this year, Rahul Gandhi used tact in silencing the Shiv Sena. He travelled in a local train in Mumbai inspite of threats from the Shiv Sena to keep away from Maharashtra. He silenced them non-violently and subtly without creating a chaos. While campaigning in Bihar, Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Bhitiharva village in West Champaran and Bodhgaya were not mere coincidences. These places have historic significance and by visiting them, Rahul Gandhi refreshed the public memory of Congress’ contribution to the freedom struggle in India.
All these steps are good to make a start, but they are not enough. A lot still needs to be answered if Rahul Gandhi wants to establish his political career and reach 7, RCR. What has Rahul Gandhi done or plans to do for the development of Congress-ruled states? Our country is changing as has been proved by the Bihar election results. People are no longer interested in rhetoric but want to see action. Instead of running negative campaigns like criticising the Nitish Kumar government for the lack of development in Bihar and adopting a patronising tone of Centre versus state funds, Rahul Gandhi should understand that the people want to know what have you done and what you can do.
Another problem with Rahul Gandhi is that people are not clear about what he stands for. He has an opinion about many different things like the divide between the two Indias, rights of the tribal people, 2G scam, Kashmir’s leadership, Ayodhya etc. He needs to realize that he cannot be everything to everybody. It would help him to narrow down his areas of focus and work on them.
Rahul Gandhi also needs to discover the ground reality himself. Interacting with the common man once in a while would not suffice. He should understand that in the world of politics and cut-throat competition, he cannot rely on the coterie of courtiers who surround the top party leadership. Many people would not tell him the truth, fearing ruffling feathers with the party high command. Moreover, many people can and do have hidden agendas of their own. Thus, Rahul Gandhi needs to go out in the field and do his home work himself.
Nitish Kumar’s comment about becoming the CM first carries a lot of weightage. Rahul Gandhi should show to the country that he deserves to be where he is and that he has earned it. He can start small and prove his worth as a CM and the rest shall follow. The ‘Gandhi’ surname has helped him enter politics but that should not be the only reason for his rise. Hope someone from the Congress is listening and has the guts to communicate the message to the Congress high command, however unpleasant it may sound.
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)