That the 127-year-old Congress party has been in decline is a given. The people at the helm of the party do not seem to be bothered about this stark truth except party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Or so it seems.
Off and on, Rahul makes some right noises about the need for rebuilding the party through internal democratisation and decentralisation. But all this is easier said than done. His revelation as to why he is disinclined to get hitched despite being over the hill, as far as marriageability is concerned, has raised eyebrows across India.
He says getting married would risk his becoming "status quoist" and he would have to be "concerned about bequeathing my position to my children". His traducers would certainly pooh-pooh his statement as a jolly good wheeze to gain popularity. They might say that he would have other reasons to bin the idea of marriage.
Whatever, Rahul's purported reason for abjuring married life is not very convincing. True, some of our competent leaders and administrators were and are singletons. Former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee, chief ministers such as Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Narendra Modi and Navin Patnaik are all unmarried and are known to be tribunes of the people. But there have been many more leaders who are even more efficient and altruistic in outlook. Wasn't Mahatma Gandhi, the role model of Rahul and millions of others across the world, a married man?
The people, not least the yoof, wouldn't buy Rahul's exquisite reasoning, anyway. He should stop thinking that marriage and family are an impediment to one's desire to serve the people the way they want. One wonders whether Rahul has taken the cue from the Catholic clergy who are not allowed to marry on the grounds that they wouldn't then be able to dedicate themselves fully to the people as the chunk of their love and affection would naturally go to their respective families. Many Congressmen would like Rahul to rethink about his decision as they cannot live without a dynasty to fall back on. So the general view is that Rahul must tie the knot with despatch and be happy and only a happy man will be able to diffuse happiness around him.
Regarding the question about his readiness for assuming the nation's top executive post in case UPA-III comes into being next year, he has never said he wouldn't take it up: it's only that he doesn't like to be quizzed on this to disabuse the general public of the impression that he is waiting in the wings to grab that post. He wants to send out a message that acquisition of power comes secondary to party prospects. It's true that Rahul did keep away from the lure of power during the UPA governance period. Should he take a final call that he wouldn't step into Manmohan Singh's shoes for whatever reasons, a few big-wigs in the so-called "oligarchy" would be guaranteed to jump into the fray.
As a matter of fact, it is this oligarchy that Rahul wants to disband. According to him, all political parties here are controlled by the high command or this oligarchy whose number differs from party to party. His take that the high command culture — a legacy of the Congress party — is the main obstacle to democratisation and decentralisation of all parties is true in every sense.
The contradiction here is plain. The centre of high command is perhaps Rahul's own mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi. No doubt, there are some satellite figures around her and this system, in Rahul's words, is the oligarchy. Rahul himself is a key part of this high command, which he wants to disband forever and effect the much desired democratisation and decentralisation in the party. But nobody has forgotten how he, as part of the high command, had meddled in the selection of candidates in different states. In the last Kerala assembly poll, his insistence on selecting a few candidates despite their poor electability brought in reverses in the poll; the upshot is that the Congress-led UDF government, with its wafer-thin majority, is under constant threat of horse-trading and eventual collapse. The point is that it is Rahul who should take the lead in dismantling the culture of what he calls oligarchy.
It is now clear that he wants to empower the MPs and MLAs as part of the decentralisation process. Tres bien. But at the end of it all, he must be ready to come to terms with a situation where his or his mother's decision will have no more relevance or importance. Frankly, the high command culture has its benefits as well. Without a fulcrum or a central control, the party would run the risk of falling apart at every turn. It may be better for the party to strike a balance with a strong organisational structure that gives sufficient weight to local leadership.
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.