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Why Rahul Must Put His House In Order First
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Of late, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has shown improved oratory skills and struck the right left-of-centre note. Some who seriously doubted Rahul's abilities are now saying they never opposed his leadership and only expressed some reservations about his "style of functioning”. The middle class had deserted the Congress lock, stock and barrel in the last parliamentary election, and since the defeat the party has swung back to the pro-poor theme.
In the recently-concluded budget session of Parliament, Rahul was at his aggressive best taking on the government on a range of issues including plight of farmers, cancellation of the Amethi Food Park and net neutrality.
The Amethi MP rattled the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government with his relentless attacks and left the Bharatiya Janata Party groping for a counter-strategy. Rahul's swift rise as a parliamentarian has also started changing how other main Opposition parties view him. They have realised he is emerging as the focal point, overshadowing Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and should be recognised as the main leader in the Opposition camp.
However, the decision to elevate Rahul at this juncture won't be easy, with the question of Sonia’s future role continuing to torment key strategists in the party. But those who support the idea argue that Sonia's supremacy is not in doubt and that no post is required to sanctify her leadership. They insist it is Rahul's leadership that has to be established, not hers.
There is still a powerful section within the party that is not comfortable with promoting Rahul in these harsh political conditions. They argue that only Sonia can steer the party in these difficult times, and that better political occasions will come in the next couple of years to project Rahul's leadership before the big battle in 2019.
Quite a few media commentators are of the view that the succession plan set for this year, if not earlier, the biggest worry about the old guard hitting back and even the speculation of a contest for the party chief's post are not a happy sign for the organisation seeking to put the Lok Sabha rout behind it.
There is a school of thought that says that in the Grand Old Party all begins and ends with the Nehru-Gandhi family. Internal strife and disunity continue to be the Congress’s worst enemy despite the devastating blow from the people. Sonia has the ability to bring factions closer, but Rahul has yet to demonstrate the tolerance and sense of accommodation to carry everybody along.
The real crisis for the Congress is the absence of a credible alternative. Those who are dismayed by Rahul, talk of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as there is no other leader who has the charisma to steer the party through these hard times. Neither Sonia nor Rahul has shown any sincerity of purpose though they have repeatedly articulated concerns about the disconnect with voters.
Rahul needs consistency and viable plans to rejuvenate and revitalise the party if he is serious about staying relevant. In 1977, Vinoba Bhave had advised Indira Gandhi to go back to the people, after her Emergency-era debacle. Indira had come down to meet Vinoba at Pavnar, a village near Wardha where the veteran Gandhian lived in an ashram. Old-timers in Wardha insist the advice played a role in Indira's dramatic comeback within two years.