If Rahul Gandhi Persists with Style and Substance, the Indira Era Could Well Return
With the precision of a royal chronograph, history has repeated itself. While one Gandhi has chosen to take a backseat, another has started moving into not just his mother’s shoes but her chair as well. In the 1960s, Indira replaced Jawaharlal Nehru. In the ’80s, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi took over from their mother. Each created their own political culture and slogans. Now, instead of reinventing itself, the 128-year-old Congress is resuscitating its past philosophy to grasp a better future. Every decade or so, it has been acquiring a new leader and newer ideology. Today’s revisionist renaissance is taking place under the leadership of Gen-3 of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Last week, Rahul Gandhi chose to redefine the economic philosophy of the Congress-led governments at the Centre and states, instead of changing it. He also established control as well as the superiority of the party over government. It’s rare for a Gandhi scion to summon all Congress CMs, key Union ministers and important party functionaries to deliberate and debate government issues while the PM was conspicuous by absence. Even Congress president Sonia Gandhi kept away from the conclave held in the aftermath of the party’s humiliating defeat in the just concluded Assembly elections. During his six-hour interaction with over a dozen CMs and half a dozen ministers, Rahul left no one in doubt that he has taken full charge of the ship. If deliberations are any indication, the days of the market-friendly government are dead. The decade-old slant in favour of an elitist economic environment will soon be reversed. Rahul has finally chosen to revive his grandmother’s election-winning clarion call, ‘Garibi Hatao’, by directing state governments and the Centre to strengthen pro-poor schemes.
He is convinced that a large number of Congress CMs and Union ministers preen in sunny eulogies of corporate leaders and foreign think tanks and ignore the common man’s voice. Rahul seems to have been greatly influenced by the means and methods adopted by AAP in Delhi, which succeeded in pirating away the Congress base. Since his own political future is at stake, he has chosen to set his own terms and delineate his role. His critics succeeded in fostering an impression that Rahul has neither the acumen nor vision to provide an effective agenda for governance. His decade-long active political career had been termed a failure sans any impact on even his own party. He is blamed by many Congressmen for the party’s poll debacle in UP and Bihar. A powerful section of the party leadership has been quietly pushing Sonia to take more interest in the affairs of the party and government.
But Rahul proved the political Cassandras who had written him off after the Assembly polls wrong by engaging Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and Food Minister K V Thomas in making governance and its delivery systems more accountable and responsive. In the past 15 years, never has such a large group of heavy-hitters been summoned, even by the Congress president. Indeed, Sonia has been holding party coffee klatches where CMs and Union ministers were part of the long invite list. But at Rahul’s conclave, direct interaction between ministers and CMs on issues which could revive the party’s sinking fortunes took place. The agenda was clear. The directives even clearer. Many speakers tried to raise other diversionary issues but Rahul put his foot down and told them to stick to predetermined subjects. However, to dilute offence with a mild charm offensive, he also told them to meet him informally after the event.
For the past three years, most Congress leaders have behaved like klaxons, blaring that the UPA and party are pro-active in fighting corruption and taking action against culprits. But they never owned up to the fact that they were losing credibility with the masses. For the first time, the party admitted to itself that both inflation and corruption were hurting it badly. Last week’s session was meant to establish not only Rahul’s unquestioned leadership but also to prove that he is a leader with a clear vision and mission. For the past few months, he has been taking a stand on issues opposing the majority view in the Congress. He received a lot of flak for his contrarian remarks on the law on preventing criminals from contesting elections. But his will prevailed. More recently, the party and government took an exceptionally strong anti-US line over the inhuman treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade after Rahul made his views public. His contrarian stand on the Adarsh Society scam in Maharashtra is an attempt to outline himself as a rebel and a leader who wields the stick and the broom within his party. He ticked off Andhra Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy who opposed the division of the state—fall in line or fall from grace, he was told. More recently, Rahul set the tone of the future course of UPA politics when he met the press with two senior ministers by his side to seek all-party support for the Lokpal Bill.
He has told many CMs to junk tainted ministers and civil servants, and ensure that the revised Lokayukta Act is passed before February 28 in all the Congress-ruled states. It was part of his strategy to prepare the Congress to counter the Modi wave perceived to be hitting various parts of the country. While NaMo has chosen to pull Brand Atal out of the saffron cupboard to win the 2014 elections, Rahul has opted to adopt the iconic tried and tested Brand Indira to revive his dismally demoralised party. Advisers have told Rahul that the Congress has lost elections even when the country experienced a higher GDP growth. In fact, the market share of the Congress has dwindled directly in proportion to the rise in market capitalisation of India’s top 20 corporate entities. Rahul’s choice is to increase the vote share of his ancient, doddering party even if it means the fall of a few of India’s rich and mighty who have been behaving like fair weather birds of late. If the young Gandhi persists with style and substance, the country could soon see the return of the Indira era.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla