In the waiting room
What's the message sent out if Rahul Gandhi's anointment is put off again?
The comparison may not be entirely fair — to whom, depends on your point of view — but Rahul Gandhi's long-delayed accession to the post of president of India's oldest political party is becoming a bit like Prince Charles' seemingly endless wait to succeed his mother as the British monarch. Not that the Congress had made an official announcement or set a date (on the former issue, not the latter, we hasten to clarify,) but party president Sonia Gandhi had herself told the media at an even in the Capital last month replying to a query on her son and party vice-president taking over the reins of the Congress: “You have been asking about this… now it is happening.” Well, it isn't, for now. The anointment, as it were, was widely expected to take place around Diwali with the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls in mind where Rahul would then have campaigned in both States as Congress chief which didn't happen. Media reports quoting party insiders say there was another small window — between November 9, when Himachal voting took place and November 19, the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi — but with Sonia away in Goa and Rahul himself embarking on a three-day campaign in Gujarat till late Tuesday, that window too is nearly closed with no signs of a Congress Working Committee meeting being called.
Why the delay, is a valid political question. And the answer is to be found not in scheduling difficulties, as Congress worthies would have us believe, but in the mistakes made by Rahul Gandhi in his political-organizational journey. For, having accepted the role of electoral rainmaker for the Congress, following the self-fulfilling prophecy that only a face from the Nehru-Gandhi has pan-India appeal to bring in the votes, he now has to deliver on that score, just as his paternal grandmother did and, to a lesser but still significant extent, so did his mother. But waiting to tag Rahul's elevation as Congress president with a big electoral win or huge poll upset or even a politically visible resurrection of the Congress has not paid dividends for either the leader or the party. It needn't have been like this for Rahul, this huge pressure he must surely feel, if he hadn't listened to the toadies who pass for loyalists in the Congress, and instead approached his political journey in a more nuanced, incremental way. He had ample opportunities to serve as a Cabinet Minister in two successive UPA terms and there are still many well-wishers who believe that win or lose, he should have been projected as the Congress' Chief Ministerial candidate for successive Uttar Pradesh elections in the first decade of the 21st century. But for that to have happened, Rahul needed to have exhibited a mind of his own; since he didn't, it is only fair to assume that he agreed with those who have been charting out his political journey for him thus far.
And it surely isn't a pretty sight even for his supporters to see a middle-aged politician of some sincerity but with zero administrative experience either at the Centre or State level attempting feebly to deliver knockout punches against his politically well-muscled opponent without the heft to conjure up a haymaker. Unsolicited advice this very much is, but Rahul would do well to just very quietly sans band, baaja, baraat take over as Congress president and get on with the long-haul task of ensuring India has a coherent, responsible and electable main Opposition party.
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