Perhaps the worst kept secret of the Congress party over the last few months, even years, had been the coronation of Rahul Gandhi as the party president. It was obvious to everyone that his mother, Sonia Gandhi, was just keeping the seat warm for him.
The question never was who but when would the reluctant heir of the Gandhi-Nehru family would take over the post. Speculations were that he would take over even during the first UPA regime but Rahul did not give his consent. Then there were reports that he would be inducted as a minister to gain administrative experience during UPA-2. Even that didn’t happen and everyone thought he would lead the party in the 2014 general elections.
It was good for him that he did not take over the position at that stage as they would have dimmed his chances after a humiliating defeat of his party by the BJP led by Narendra Modi. The party insiders then began spreading reports of his impending take over after the Assembly elections in Punjab, Goa, etc which again didn’t happen.
Finally, he did agree to take up the position after the crucial Gujarat Assembly elections. An ‘election process’ was set into motion, the result of which was anybody’s guess.
Thus, the farce of holding ‘election’ for the post of president of the Congress was totally unnecessary. In fact, the servility displayed by top Congress leaders has not raised any respect for the party. Rather it has drilled home the point that nothing has changed in the grand old political party.
There was a pathetic race among the senior leaders of the party to back him as the party chief to replace his ailing mother Sonia Gandhi. Top party leaders vied with each other to file nomination papers in his favour. These included former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his former senior colleague in the cabinet, P Chidambaram. Among others, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Capt Amarinder Singh and Mallikarjun Kharge filed separate sets of nomination papers in his favour.
No less than 89 sets of nomination papers were filed to break the record of 56 such sets of papers which were filed when Sonia Gandhi was ‘elected’ president in 2010. Even as there was a shocking race to prove ‘loyalty’ among top party leaders, not one nomination set was filed on behalf of any other candidate. The result, obviously, was unanimous election. The ‘election’ did not certainly add to the prestige of the party or its new chief. If anything, it has diminished the stature of the party as well as that of Rahul Gandhi.
His ascendency to the post has come at a time when the party is at its worst position ever. From a whopping 400 plus seats won by the party under the leadership of his father Rajiv Gandhi, the party was reduced to mere 44 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It has been suffering a series of defeats by losing in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Uttarakhand.
The only major state it won in the recent past was Punjab. But then the entire credit for the party’s victory in Punjab goes to Capt Amarinder Singh. He had threatened to quit if he was not given the charge and complete say in the selection of candidates. He acted as a one-man army and led the party to a resounding victory. Rahul Gandhi, at best, addressed just half a dozen election rallies. In fact, many candidates were reluctant in inviting him to visit their constituencies.
The same was true for the party’s victory in the previous Himachal Pradesh elections. It was Virbhadra Singh who led the party to victory and central leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, had little role to play. Even during the current assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh single handedly led the party’s campaign. Rahul Gandhi campaigned for just one day when he addressed a couple of election rallies. The outcome in Himachal would be declared the same day as the counting of votes in Gujarat but the fact remains that it was a completely Virbhadra Singh show. The responsibility of winning or losing in Himachal would rest squarely with Virbhadra Singh and not Rahul Gandhi.
That’s not a happy augury for a person who is supposed to lead the party in the years to come. His party’s performance in Gujarat would come under close scrutiny as he has invested a lot of time and energy in that state.
Even while it was concentrating on Gujarat Assembly elections, the party faced another humiliating defeat in Uttar Pradesh where it lost civic elections even in the Lok Sabha constituency of Rahul Gandhi. Although civic elections may not be considered as markers for the popularity of Lok Sabha representatives, the virtual obliteration of the Congress in the politically most important state should be a matter of grave concern for the party. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party actually did much better and emerged as the second largest party in the politically most influential state in the country.
Despite years of grooming and guidance available from the best of gurus, Rahul Gandhi has not been able to carve a place for himself in the party or the country’s politics. He has not led campaigns in which his party had emerged successful or had gained with his presence.
He was given a long rope as certainly no one else could ever expect. If he does not deliver now he can never expect to do so in future. Particularly when straws in the wind indicate that people are getting disillusioned by the rhetoric of Narendra Modi.
Yet, to give Rahul his due credit, he got better traction during his campaign in Gujarat than he had ever got so far. There is a discernible change in his style and it appears he may be finally getting some sane advise.
He doesn’t behave like the days when he would roll up his sleeves or storm into a press conference to tear up a proposed Bill or would mess up in his speech. It may be a matter of speculation but there are indicators of a professional touch. Perhaps there is a change in his set of advisers and speech writers but he is still to prove himself as a political leader. If he does that, the farce of holding ‘election’ for the post of president of the party would not be required.