The jamboree that the Congress organised in Jaipur last week was anything but a ‘chintan shivir’ that the party billed it to be. If it was truly an introspection meet there would have been some discordant notes on specific policies and the direction that the party is set on. Many Congressmen express their apprehensions about Rahul’s abilities in private but not one of them gave vent to these at the party forum. Indeed, in the sycophantic culture under which the Congress operates, any voicing of dissent is taboo and consequently, honest introspection is out of question.
There is no mistaking the fact that the real purpose of the ‘shivir’ was to set the pace for the formal anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the heir to the party throne and to prepare the ground for his projection as prime ministerial nominee of the UPA. The crass sycophancy that was on display was disgusting indeed. It was pathetic how Congressmen bent over backwards to sing paeans to Rahul one after another without a thought to how servile they looked. It was an insult to the memory of the ‘Young Turks’ of yesteryears which was how the youth brigade of the party was called then. During the days of Indira Gandhi it was the ‘Young Turks’ of the likes of Chandrashekhar, Mohan Dharia, Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasad who carved out a niche by the manner in which they spoke forthrightly against specific government policies in party fora, leading the party to introspect.
Today’s sycophantic youth in the party cannot be called ‘Young Turks’ by any stretch of imagination. Many of them are vibrant and well-endowed. However, they curb their instinct to be outspoken because they are as much after the loaves of office and keen to ingratiate themselves to the ‘high command’ as any of the weather-beaten politicians. It is not candidness that comes to them naturally but servility. A band of youth who could be a great asset to the party with an intrinsic, fresh thinking falls in line like run-of-the-mill politicians.
Rahul’s formal appointment as the party vice-president close on the heels of the announcement that he would lead the Congress campaign for the 2014 general elections evoked no discussion on how equipped he is to discharge those roles effectively. What exactly are the accomplishments that he can boast of in the run-up to the party’s vice-presidency.
Rarely has he spoken in Parliament on issues that agitate the country. The couple of times that he has, he has shown no signs of any great maturity or depth. The elections in which he has been the party’s mascot — be it Bihar or Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu — he has failed to inspire voters. In the Gujarat Assembly elections in which the Congress was pitted against its biggest adversary Narendra Modi, Rahul failed to show up in the campaign except in the last couple of days, apparently fearful that too active a role would lead to people and media questioning his grip on the voters when the results would show a steamroller win for Modi.
Rahul is untested as a leader shouldering high responsibility but with what the country has seen of him, can he be relied upon to lead the country as prime minister?
As for his stewardship of the Congress, that is the party’s business and if he learns from his mistakes, he could well emerge as a credible leader in the long run. However, if he is pushed to the centrestage by a sycophantic party he will be judged on his present credentials and his current inadequacies would be focussed on as the sheen wears off and the media begins to evaluate his performance shorn of emotion. Rahul is billed as a ‘youth icon’ but what has he done to deserve this? Recently, when the gang-rape of a girl in a Delhi bus brought the youth on the streets in protest in many cities, Rahul was conspicuous by his absence. It was later revealed that he was holidaying in Europe.
It is yet too early to say that the battle for prime ministerial stakes in 2014 would be between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. While Rahul has enough sycophants around him to cajole him to run for prime minister, he may himself realise along the way that he is not ripe yet for this position.
For Modi, there is the baggage that he has to carry of the anti-Muslim riots that he failed to control in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident, which would alienate the BJP’s allies like the Janata Dal (United). Besides, the manner in which the RSS has been interfering in the affairs of the BJP, trying to force its hand on retaining the tainted Nitin Gadkari as party chief for a second term, has caused a divide in the BJP that could prove a great liability to it.
It does not bode well for the BJP if the Congress charge that the BJP is being remote-controlled by the RSS is borne out by the turn of events. If it is the Nehru-Gandhi family that remote controls the Congress it is no less the RSS that controls the BJP.
It would have been in the fitness of things had Rahul undergone an honest apprenticeship as a minister under Manmohan Singh for some time and seen for himself how the Cabinet is administrated and what kind of problems are encountered in the course of running the country’s administration. It is not as though Singh could be anyone’s role model with the spinelessness with which he has led the country but a sensible aspirant for the high office would have learnt at least a few things willy-nilly.
Certain that he would not be in contention after the 2014 election, Manmohan Singh is losing whatever drive and initiative he had in the course of his two terms as prime minister. He looked as forlorn and lost at the ‘chintan shivir’ as he has repeatedly looked in recent times. In any case, having played second fiddle to Sonia Gandhi all these years, he could hardly be expected to assert himself at a time when the countdown to his departure has already begun.
His tom-tomming about the Indian economy hardly makes an impact now in the face of the spiralling prices that have hit the people hard. That hardly anyone who is in the know of things today talks of India as an emerging economic power is a sad reflection on the increasing disenchantment with this country’s growth odyssey.
An uncertain battle lies ahead for the Congress and the BJP. A lot would depend on the rival candidates in determining the course of events.