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Rahul As Cong Prez: Challenge To Make Waves Beyond Social Media

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By Sidharth Mishra

In the midst of the dynasts as leader debate, Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, himself belonging to a dynasty, announced that Rahul Gandhi was all set to take over as the party president after Diwali. This is not the first time that one has heard about the anointment of the heir as the king. Unfortunately on all the previous occasions of proposed coronations, debacles in state assembly polls have delayed the process. There is, however, no denying the fact that the mirage of “Rahul Gandhi as young and youthful leader waiting in wings to take over” have kept the Congress workers somewhat afloat and given them some hope despite very depressing political environment. Gandhi has been lately on a trip, including tours abroad, to refurbish his image ahead of another proposed coronation. But has these attempts at image management really helped? One doubts. In his farewell speech in Lok Sabha during last Budget session, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had made a very pertinent political observation about Rahul Gandhi. Yogi had said that he was a year older than his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav and a year younger to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.

In making this observation, Yogi underlined the fact that their, the UP CM and his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav’s political maturity was not subservient to their age and that they were the masters of their moves. This was an attempt to point a finger at Rahul Gandhi’s failure to pose any serious challenge to the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre, or for that matter the BJP governments in the states.
Rahul Gandhi has weakened his position by continuing with the politics of theatrics, where he has attacked the Modi government more with an eye to the television cameras than with any desire to have a direct impact on the voters. Such impact only comes when one practices politics of grassroots, engaging both the cadres and the voters in flesh and blood.
Coming back to the proposed coronation, a day after Sachin Pilot’s announcement, Congress came out with a statement. “Rahul Gandhi should and will take over as our party president,” party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said adding, “The dates are not certain, but there is a system in place for the party’s election. As soon as system gets over, obviously the new president will be elected. Almost everyone in the Congress is of the view that Rahul Gandhi should and will take over as our president.”
Read between the lines, the statement somewhat betrayed the divided opinion within the party on Rahul’s ability to lead the Congress back on the path of recovery. The Modi government may be going through a bad economic patch but that doesn’t mean that people were ready to vote for the Congress. To embroider the point let me refer to the the recent elections to the students union of Delhi University.
When poll percentage went up, people little realized what was in store. The large number of votes polled by None Of The Above (NOTA) category stumped all. Of the total votes polled for all four posts, NOTA alone got 29,770 votes. NOTA votes polled for each post stood as follows: President – 5162, VP – 7689, Secretary -7891 and Joint Secretary – 9028. For the president and joint secretary’s posts, NOTA had more votes than the Left students’ body, AISA.
Those who carefully follow the trends on the Delhi University campus could easily see that a large number of students came out to vote only to give a big thumb down to all the political parties. But it also indicated that the young people may be annoyed with the NDA government given their failure to revive nation’s economy but they did not yet look to be ready to accept Rahul or for that matter anybody else as Modi’s replacement.
In his attempt to make himself popular among the youth, Rahul Gandhi has often rushed to stand alongside fringe groups on the various campuses. This has led to the Congress looking firmly with the (ultra) Left and more dangerously anti-Hindu. This has proved to be bad politics as it has often been interpreted as ceding the nationalist space completely to the BJP.
The Congress leadership must understand, if BJP leaders rake up the Mahishasur/Durga issue on campus, it helps them consolidate their position with their vote bank. If Rahul Gandhi goes and stands with the supporters of Afzal Guru, it harms the Congress and shreds its appeal among the larger Indian masses.
In the past three years, the discomfort for the ruling establishment from the Congress quarters has come only during the last biennial polls to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. What ensued in Gujarat was a pitched political combat, where Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel fought a battle of lifetime to first keep the flock together, then engineer a great escape and finally make a triumphant return.
Showcasing his leadership skills Patel showed to his boss’s son how political battles are fought when the chips are actually down. Such battles are fought by supervising political campaigns hands on and not merely parroting scripts handed over by speech writers, as Rahul Gandhi’s wont is. 
The challenge for the Congress party is to put the government on the mat on issues of development, in asking questions about “ache din”, and not allowing them the escape route of identity politics. The Congress must realise that after the defeat in 1999, the party was rebuilt brick-by-brick. It should do the same now. There are no short-cuts as Sonia Gandhi had found out in the 1990s when Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to support her as Prime Minister.
Rahul Gandhi too would have to engage not just with the party leaders and cadres but spend time among the masses irrespective of the fact whether his moves are being captured by television cameras or not. Does he have the ability to wage such long drawn battle is something one would have to wait and watch for.
(Sidharth Mishra is a political commentator)

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