Rahul Gandhi’s anointment as the No. 2 in the Congress Party – after his mother, Sonia – is nothing new. It has been an established fact for some time now. What was truly new in what happened last Saturday at the Jaipur sitting of the Congress Working Committee was the formal positioning of the son , one effect of which would be to reduce uncertainty on this point to nil.
This is no doubt an important development in the history of the Congress Party because it takes us some way into the future as regards the structure of the party’s leadership, especially in view of the fact that the current president, Sonia Gandhi, has given notice that she will be around to conduct the party in an official capacity for perhaps another four years.
But it would be a big tragedy for the party, under the leadership of which the country gained its Independence in 1947, if what happened on Saturday is just restricted to the future line-up of its leadership. There is no doubt at all that while the times have changed drastically, along with the development requirements of the Indian Republic, the Congress Party, along with other political outfits, have remained stuck in the ethos of the nineties when the first stirrings of “a new India” were beginning to make themselves felt. The critical question, therefore, is: will Rahul Gandhi be able to inject the virus of a cataclysmic change in attitude in the inner workings of his party, which alone can reform it in such a fashion that it will be able to provide effective leadership to an India straining at the leash to claim its rightful position in the comity of nations?
At the very beginning, the point must be made that such change cannot be accomplished by just one person at the helm of affairs. A team is urgently required which will not only fully support the leader through the travails of office but which will also, through useful interaction, provide good grist to the mill of meaningful reform. An important question, therefore, is: does the young Gandhi have such a team around him just now which will, to begin with, help him to impart the right momentum to the “juggernaut of change”? Clearly, the road will be extremely tortuous and difficult to traverse. The “old guard” – if one may still use the age-old formulation – has grown in size manifold during the past decades, and one can be certain that it will not leave any stone unturned to challenge the progress of “reform” in the party and beyond.
Rahul Gandhi must, therefore, appeal directly to the people of the country to establish his bona fides as the new leader of the oldest political grouping in the subcontinent, and be able to draw their support in the form of electoral approbation. It is only if he has a sizable team at his elbow, composed principally from among the elected representatives, both at the Centre and in the States, that he will be able to forge his way through the minefields that the opposition is bound to lay along his path.
This means that he has to cut across party lines and appeal to the younger generation of voters, which has a totally different mindset compared to their elders when looking at the future of India. A lot of people will say that the dynasty-tag will harm Rahul Gandhi’s prospects. Admittedly, it cannot help his fortunes in this day and age, apart from being a black mark on the political vibrancy of his own party.
But this is his party’s internal problem, reflecting, among other things, a critical weakness of the organisation in not being able to attract the right sort of young talent which has the good of a vibrant, modern India at heart. If the young prince of the Nehru-Gandhi family can ascend to the Government’s leadership with the help of the ballot, and steer the country in the “right” direction, it would be a stroke of good fortune for the republic, which has for far too long been enmeshed in the self-destructive conspiracies of wheeler-dealer politicians who presently populate the corridors of power.