For his sworn detractors, he is merely a bad political penny. But to their chagrin, he is set to return. As he turned 50, Rahul Gandhi is back with a vengeance. Striking here and there, speaking anywhere and everywhere, to anyone and everyone, the sixth generation Nehru-Gandhi scion is ensuring his ubiquitous visibility. For the past few weeks, his actions and utterances are quite indicative of his intent and intention, of challenging the Mighty Modi. His intention is to regain political relevance and credibility. For that, he has knocked at every door and explored all avenues. From sitting along the road side with distressed and stressed migrant labourers to Nobel laureates, global medical luminaries, outspoken industry tycoons and retired diplomats, Rahul has redefined his road map for his future political agenda.
After a disastrous short stint as Congress president, he wants to learn by unlearning. His promoters have already drawn up a blueprint to re-launch him as a national leader who wants to change his party and restore to India its inclusive character. His spin masters are claiming that the Rahul of 2020 is a personality full of promise and performance. He has been in active politics since 2004. During the past 16 years, he has traversed through various hills and valleys during his political yatra. His worst performance was when not only he lost his own Lok Sabha election, but couldn’t win enough seats to ensure even the status of a recognised opposition party in the Lok Sabha.
His past doesn’t inspire any confidence in him. Congress, as usual, hasn’t got out of the mindset of surviving without a Gandhi which ensures a pan-India recall. But there are many in the Congress who feel that Rahul is yet to acquire the qualities of a statesman who can offer any alternative leadership or a vision for India. While his great grandfather and grandmother possessed all the skills to manage a complex party like the Congress and an equally culturally and socially diversified India, Rahul sounds like an adolescent. Senior Congress leaders, who have individually won the states for the party, have even started assessing Rahul on various parameters.
While none of them is willing to risk his or her career by openly questioning his leadership, they have defined a few necessary qualifications which Rahul must possess before he takes up the mantle again. These are: Accountability: There seems to be a consensus that Rahul must develop a mindset in which he holds himself accountable for both success and failure. Normally, a great leader takes less credit for success and more for failure. But in the case of the Gandhis, it has always been the reverse. Rahul did own up to the responsibility for the party’s debacle in 2019 and resigned. He also made a powerful statement against entitlement: “It is a habit in India that the powerful cling to power, no one sacrifices power. But we will not defeat our opponents without sacrificing the desire for power and fighting a deeper ideological battle. I was born a Congressman. As president of the Congress Party, I am responsible for the loss of the 2019 election.
Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President.” But he is on his way back without getting rid of those who were responsible for the Congress’s defeat in many states. Delegation: Success of a leader depends on the extent to which he or she delegates. When Rahul was Congress president, there were hardly any powers given to the chief ministers or the state party chiefs to change and choose their teams. Even a junior minister or district-level office bearer was chosen by the high command. Even the portfolios were decided in Delhi. Rahul hasn’t given any indication or ideas as to how he would like to change the basis character of the party which is almost on the verge of total collapse. It is because of the excessive concentration of power at the top that the Congress as an organisation has almost vanished from many states. If the Congress won power under the leadership of the Gandhis, it also shrank beyond recognition under them.
Flexibility: A strong leader survives longer if he listens most and speaks the least. Rahul is perceived as a person who is quite inflexible when it comes to his likes and dislikes. While Indira, Sonia and Rajiv were able to carry their adversaries with them, Rahul is yet to make peace with many senior Congress leaders. He made an attempt to create his own Congress but failed. With Congress still divided in various factions, Rahul doesn’t seem to be the person who can ensure unity. Connectivity & Confidence: Oratorial skills of a leader play the most important role in the success of any political party. Atal Behari Vajpayee could mesmerise his audience. Even Indira could connect emotionally. But Rahul is yet to develop as an effective communicator.
Most popular Indian politicians have been powerful storytellers. Narendra Modi tells India the tale it wants to hear, of reinvention, of renewal, of looking even our strongest enemies in the eye, never mind the outcome. Rahul, in contrast, seemingly lacks authenticity. His struggles pale in comparison with those of the prime minister, and his dynastic roots seem to distance him from a young, hungry and angry new India. Forget the voters, Rahul hasn’t been able to convey his idea of compassionate governance to his own party. Though Rahul sounds quite confident when he attacks the government, he is yet to display any expertise in rallying the party cadres behind him with energy or enthusiasm. Even after 16 years, Rahul is yet to prove he can win friends and influence people, let alone triumph in elections.
Integrity & Transparency: Finally, it is the impeccable integrity of any leader which carries conviction with both voters and cadres. However, it is the financial integrity which is more important. While the Congress party has been accused of many scams, no one has accused Rahul of personal involvement so far. He is, however, responsible for leading a party whose leaders are facing numerous investigations. Even if he is personally clean, perceptibly Rahul is seen as a leader who isn’t capable of reining in corrupt elements. In addition, many feel that Rahul operates under a cloak of secrecy and his political management is not transparent.
According to Congress insiders it is a matter of time when Rahul assumes the Congress presidentship. But it would be more a testament to the need for feudal fealty that runs through the veins of Congress workers and less to his innate talent for politics. The informal rules of inheritance can deliver Rahul the throne, but the legitimacy of power can only come from the people. India needs an alternative leader with vision, mission and dynamism. Rahul 2.0 has to convince the country that he is its future. Being the bearer of one of India’s most famous last names is not enough.
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