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Being Rahul Gandhi: Challenges and Opportunities

Being Rahul Gandhi: Challenges and Opportunities

Varahamihira, Aug 21, 2017

In October this year the Congress organisational elections are to take place. Rahul Gandhi's much awaited elevation to party President through the election route is expected. After his elevation to Vice President in Jaipur 4 years ago, this will be the highest point of his 13 year career. It is probably a good time to examine where the Congress scion has gone right and wrong in his career and see what he can do in the long and short term to provide effective leadership to the party.

Keeping the old guard on his side:

Let’s  start with the recent Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls. Never before has an RS poll been fought with as much zeal as in Gujarat. Having made the first strike with a Vaghela engineered defection, it was the BJP that raised the stakes. It was therefore, also their battle to lose. Ultimately, by taking on the BJP President and beating him at his own game, Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to Sonia has shown something that few in the Congress has for the past three years. That there is someone in their own ranks who can take on the Modi Shah electoral machine and emerge victorious. Patel's election brought the Congress together like never before and different wings of the party worked in tandem to ensure victory from approaching election commission late into the night to providing adequate legal support and communicating the message effectively. All of this brought unprecedented confidence to the Congress rank and file too. However, Rahul it seems was not impressed. Just a few days earlier he had wished Venkaiah Naidu on his victory in the VP polls on Twitter, but there was no tweet congratulating Ahmad Patel on this victory. It was in fact Patel who had to tweet thanking RG for his wishes. Whether Rahul likes it or not, the merit of the party old guard like Patel and others like Punjab CM Amarinder Singh withstands the test of time. Without Amarinder, the Congress would not have won the only state it controls in North India. Ironically, Rahul wasted 2 years in the state before the polls, giving Pratap Singh Bajwa control over the Punjab unit as part of his next generation plan. It's time Rahul woke up to the reality of the day. He needs every bit of support, resource, goodwill and strategic planning he can get to win this war. Personal political differences will only drag him further back. In any case, he will have to find a way to convince the older guard that the future of their careers and party are directly linked to his.

Realising that changing a political generation is not easy when out of power

PM Modi had it easy when it came to a generation change he was the one who was calling the shots. Fresh on the heels of the 2014 LS poll success, seniors like Advani, Joshi and Sinha were moved to the Margdarshak Mandal and younger dissenters were just not given room. He had already won over an overwhelming majority of the party's central leadership quietly, in the 2 years preceding his Lok Sabha victory. The rest of his Council of Ministers comprises lesser known yes men. After a few electoral losses in Delhi and Bihar in initial years, today, three years in power there is no question of internal dissent to the PM. Similarly, the rise of Rahul Gandhi in the party has seen a lowering of the status of the likes of Ahmed Patel and the Old guard he represents. This is had lead to huge rifts in the party leadership between the old guard and the new generation while the UPA was in power. Post the 2014 LS poll defeat, a compromise was reached about the role of AP as he is popularly known in the Congress, a key aide of RG was removed and it was decided that AP would be consulted before any important decision was taken. This arrangement did not materialise. RG continues to decide the fate of the party. At times consulting mother and sister and generally implementing decisions through his men in the party. The reason RG is so wary is that he has been baited and sabotaged by the old guard time and again in the media as well as behind the scenes. He just wants to get rid of them. But the experience of others should  teach him the value of patience and implementing what he wants at an opportune time. Till then he must grin and bear it.

Realisation that Congress is out of Power

At a recent lunch hosted by a party colleague, Rahul compared the Congress to the master blaster saying you don't teach Sachin how to bat. The self assured statement also reeks of aristocratic privilege. One that had turned Corporates and Media away from the Congress when it was in power. It has also lead to a dozen or so, top leaders quitting the party in the past 3 years. Why else would a career Congressman like SM Krishna quit the party at the ripe old age of 84, after enjoying posts such as Chief Minister, Governor and Union External Affairs Minister? The fact is that Congress is stuck in a time warp. Rather than aggressively plan and take on the BJP, issue after issue they are still bogged down by their own internal politics. Rahul for instance, never loses an opportunity to target the media saying they have 'sold out' to Modi at many a public platform. However when the issue of Haryana BJP President's son's attempt to abduct an IAS officer's daughter was raised by all media, the Congress failed to pick it up in Parliament. What did they raise in the Rajya Sabha instead? The inconsistent printing of the new 500 rupee note! National issue all right but an extremely insipid one. And certainly not an issue one which they could have demanded the State BJP chief's resignation. They finally raised it in the post lunch session two days later, by when it had lost steam.

Choosing the right team

This is an inflection point for Rahul, and without the right people he will be nowhere. Especially so, in a party that is so divided in camps and is susceptible to palace intrigue. Internal democracy is often used to settle personal scores. Leaders are jostling for attention only for their personal aggrandisement not to get the party ahead. That culture must change. At a time when Priyanka's entry into the Party is being considered he must now use her more actively, rather than appear scared of being upstaged by her. From Communication to poll management Rahul must ensure a balance of the old and new guard establishing that no meritorious person feels left behind, though the skew may be loaded in favour of the young. He cannot afford the kind of debacle that outsiders like Prashant Kishore faced in the UP polls. Though his personal advisors and state satraps have a strong skew of fellow dynasts like him, Rahul will have to ensure that performance is key in their future role. Moves implemented recently such as ensuring General Secretaries in charge of states are given only one state to handle at a time will ensure focussed decision making.

Focus on issues and communication of those messages

Rahul continues to raise people centric issues from Gorakhpur deaths to Mandsaur farmer protests. However, he must not imagine that support will follow automatically when the numbers in Parliament are stacked so poorly for him. Like old world politicians, Modi, has been personally cultivating individuals in the Bureaucracy, Civil Society, Entertainment and Media for the past decade and is reaping today the fruits of what was sown earlier. However, it is hard to come up with one name in any of these fields that has benefitted solely because of Rahul's patronage, apart from his own party workers. As a young leader he has to start looking for support outside his party as well. Although he is trying very hard to shake off the image of a reluctant Politician he will have to do a lot more to revive his party and the opposition's sagging fortunes. He will have to become the 24x7 politician that his arch rival is, in order to compete with him. Just sitting in the hope that anti incumbency will one day benefit him will take neither his party nor him very far in the current circumstances.


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