It's now official. Rahul Gandhi is the number two in the grand old party of India, after having been elevated to the post of vice-president. Much as the decision had been left to Rahul by the party years ago, he had always seemed torn about the big plunge for whatever reasons.
The much-heralded anointing has come not a minute too soon for the Congress party as it limbers up for the parliamentary elections next year. Rahul must have felt the need to lead from the front rather than from behind the scene. He knows that the party would eventually be forced to sell him short if he continued to hide below the parapet.
Now that he has chosen to take the party forward and to the elections, the big onus on him is definitely to beat the anti-incumbency mood against the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, which is running pretty high now and, not to mention, the corrupt and inept image of the party.
But he starts his job with some crucial advantages. First, there has never been even a peep of protest in the party against his assuming a more responsible role. Second, the main opposition party, the BJP, is in total disarray. Third, he is relatively young with the youth brigade of the party, including the Youth Congress and the National Students Union (NSU) pretty much under his thumb. He has energised both these organisations giving them a new hope. In his acceptance speech at the end of the three-day brainstorming session of the party in Jaipur, he highlighted the need to hold out hope despite his party being in a parlous state.
Youths have always been the foot-soldiers of the party, but when the time of the selection of candidates comes, they are given the brush-off. He also pointed to the 'impatient' youth and stressed the urgency in empowering the 'aam admi' or the common man.
Fourth, Rahul has never been known as one who chases after power. Everybody knows that any kind of job, whether in the government or in the party, could have been his if he really wanted. His slow-footedness or reluctance to assume positions of power has given the impression that here is someone whose only concern is the party. He made that pretty clear when he said in the Jaipur speech that the "party is his life … people are his life".
And fifth, being the GOP, the Congress has roots in almost every part of the country. According to him, the party has the "DNA of India". Which is why, some Congressmen ease through the elections in spite of a Mickey Mouse system that prevails in the party now.
The disadvantages are, beyond doubt, many and varied, the most critical being the pong of corruption at all levels. In fact, the main criticism of Rahul by the opposition is that he never uttered a word when the UPA government was buffeted by a series of corruption scandals. In his speech, however, he took a dig at the opposition party, saying 'we see now corrupt leaders holding forth on the need to eradicate corruption and those who have showed scant respect for women lecturing on the rights of women'. The main theme of his speech was, without doubt, the need for a root-and-branch revamp — not just a policy change — of the party. He spoke of putting a full stop to the culture of centralised working of the party where everything, including the selection of candidates, had to emanate from the top.
It's a bit rich coming from him as he himself had been keen on nominating candidates for both parliamentary and state elections. In the last assembly elections in Kerala, his meddling in the selection process was said to have cost the Congress three or four seats. Now, the Congress-led UDF government has a wafer-thin majority of less than three seats. The 2012 assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh provides us with another story of how decisions had been imposed on the party from the top and it is no secret that it was Rahul who led the campaign from the front. Be that as it may, if there is a genuine desire for decentralisation in the party, it should be welcomed because the party at the moment is overly centralised. But at the same time a minimum degree of centralisation is required lest it becomes a party where everybody is a leader with scant accountability.
Nobody knows his views on critical issues as he rarely commented on anything. The official assumption of power will certainly force him to stake out his positions on various matters. He has had enough time to study different aspects of politics, domestic as well as foreign, life of the common man, innumerable tricks of politicians or 'politricks', in short, every facet of life. As party loyalist Digvijay Singh has said in a TV interview, 'give him a chance, he is on test'.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.