Ajith Vijay Kumar
Scion of India`s oldest political party, Rahul Gandhi, has much riding on his shoulders as he tries to resurrect the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Faced with the growing acceptability of the BJP - especially its once untouchable PM candidate Narendra Modi - and the taints of corruption and non-governance, the Congress is fighting with its back to the wall.
Naysayers believe Rahul Gandhi is trying the impossible – to turn around the party`s fortunes in time to make it a challenger to the Modi juggernaut.
While the task indeed is arduous, it would be premature to write off Rahul Gandhi and the ideology he represents.
For one, the Congress has its root deep in the consciousness of the idea called India. Starting from the freedom struggle when the party was spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi to the post-independence era of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi - the Nehru-Gandhi family, has been part of the power DNA of the country.
Although as much the Congress and Rahul Gandhi would want to negate the suggestion, the baton has now firmly passed to Rahul Gandhi.
The 2004 idea to have someone from outside the family – Dr Manmohan Singh – in the hot seat doesn’t seem to be a worthwhile proposition going into the future.
The family has to take charge, stake claim for power and also take responsibility for failure.
Going into the polls, Rahul remains confident that path-breaking initiatives like Right to Information Act, MNERGA, Right to Education and Right to Food will ensure that the Congress betters its 2009 tally – 206 seats – or at least ensures that the party is in a position to cobble up a coalition.
While it is undeniable that the above mentioned schemes have brought about a positive change in the lives of the marginalised in the country, what has undone the good work done by successive UPA governments has been the spectre of corruption and price rise.
The 2Gs and Commonwealths have tarnished the image of the government near to beyond repair stage and add to it the consistently high levels of inflation and slowing economic growth during the UPA2; the common man may look for options beyond the tried and tested Congress.
In reality, politics is a battle of perception. Rahul Gandhi has also termed the Lok Sabha elections as a “battle of thoughts”. He said that the Congress stood for empowering the people while the opposition represented only the rich in the country.
Whether the opposition represents only the rich can be a matter of debate but Rahul is correct in terming the Congress as having worked to empower the people.
However, what Rahul seems to have missed is the changing reality of a young India, an India where people across the spectrum have moved or want to move ahead from an arrangement where the government acts as a benevolent giver.
They aspire for an India where they are in control and not living on handouts. The change in the mood of the nation got reflected in the stunning victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
The AAP may be crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions, but the idea has not. If not AAP, the nation would look at other options that promise suitable conditions for its growth.
Rahul is young and is perfectly placed to take on the role of the nurturer of the new thought, provided he shed his image of a reluctant politician.
The Congress may have shied away from nominating him as the party`s prime ministerial candidate, but the fact remains that he is the face of the party in 2014 and there`s no escaping the reality.
The Gandhi family has, all through Manmohan Singh`s tenure, tried to cultivate and maintain an image of aloofness from power with Rahul even saying once said that his mother Sonia Gandhi told him that “power is poison”.
He may want to cultivate an image of being an independent voice, an endeavour that often saw him crossing swords and embarrassing the government run by his own party. Be it tearing up the legislation on convicted netas or pushing Manmohan Singh to raise the LPG subsidy cap, Rahul has always tried to play the insider-outsider role, but he has now reached a position where it would not be possible to be on the sidelines anymore.
He has to take charge. To his credit, he is trying to rebuild the party from within. Be it taking steps to democratise the NSUI or introduction of the primary system in selection of candidates for Lok Sabha polls, Rahul has not shied away from experimenting to change the dynamics.
Also, the way he has taken charge of the party`s poll campaign for the Lok Sabha polls indicates that Rahul is ready to stand up and be counted when it matters, irrespective of the consequences.
Though the old guard of the Congress party seems to have not taken kindly to their diminishing role in the future, most have no other option left but to fall in line and cede space to team Rahul. While the smarter of the lot have voluntarily ceded space to the young within their family, the impatient ones have jumped ship for greener pastures and the remaining are hoping to be “accommodated” in the house of elders.
The timing may be far from perfect to bring about sweeping changes but in case of the Congress, it is indeed the sooner the better.
The veterans, who have enjoyed the fruits of power for 10 years, have to make way for new thought, especially because their track record has left much to be desired and has pushed the party to the verge of losing its prominence nationally.
Rahul has taken charge now and he must get his chance and time to prove his mettle. He is on the right path and making the right assertions. “I cannot make big promises but my intentions are very clean. I promise you that whatever demands you have, I would always make a whole-hearted effort to meet your demands,” Gandhi said.
However, the need of the hour is that Rahul should present a credible plan to back up his promises with action on the ground.
And, the plan of action should be long-term in its scope and reach. Irrespective of how India votes in 2014, Rahul must keep his eyes on the goal – to create a new Congress that is perceived to be more in tune with the changing realities of the biggest democracy of the world.
The Rahul factor...the story has just begun.