By Kalyani Shankar
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi turned 50 last week and celebrated it quietly in view of the coronavirus outbreak. His father Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister at the age of 40. Rahul too could have become the Prime Minister in 2009 when the Congress returned to power, or at least a minister during the ten years of the UPA rule from 2004 -2014. But he had his own ideas of leadership. At the swearing in ceremony in 2009, I asked him why he did not become a minister and his reply was: “I don’t want to do ten things at a time. I want to do only one thing at a time.”
Rahul loyalists are getting impatient to bring him back as the party chief. Nobody knows why he resigned last year after the Lok Sabha poll results, or why he is coming back as the Congress President. It is pertinent to note that though not holding any office, it is Rahul who is fighting from the front on behalf of the Congress, though Sonia Gandhi too is writing letters and participating in the meeting with the political leaders and Prime Minister.
The indications of Rahul‘s return were clear at last week’s Congress Working Committee meeting, the top policy making body, where there was a clash between the old guard and Rahul. The power struggle was visible when Rahul was critical of the old guard for not supporting him in his campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi either now or earlier during the 2019 poll campaign. The old guard is wary of personal attacks against Modi as they feel that the negative campaign will not work. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, a known Sonia loyalist, was the one who raised the issue in the CWC meeting and the “Rahul Lao” chorus began soon after. One of them even suggested that a virtual meeting should be organized to bring Rahul back.
Secondly, Rahul 2.0 will see a new brand Rahul. From the ‘angry young man’ of the earlier days he will be projected as a mature and effective leader who alone can take on the Prime Minister Modi. He is being projected as an intellectual who can hold his own with global experts and economists. His ‘conversations’ with experts like former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee and former US diplomat Nicholas Burns are meant for that purpose. He is also engaging the media with his three free-wheeling press conferences in recent weeks.
Thirdly, Rahul has launched his own Telegram channel this week. The main purpose is to connect with the voters directly. It is available on the messaging app and has so far about 3500 subscribers. This is the novel experiment as it gives access to the public his views directly. Though he caught up late on the social media compared to the BJP he is catching up fast in the past two years. He has 14.9 million followers on twitter and over a million in instagram. His YouTube channel has 3.1 lakh subscribers.
His strategists must have thought it is time for a new brand Rahul. He can no longer be called a youth as he is 50 now. Time has come to project him as a mature leader who has a world- view. Even the BJP no longer calls him Pappu and is engaging with him politically though ridiculing him often. It is Rahul who has been raising issues like Modi’s handling of the Chinese incursions, economy and Covid on behalf of the Congress party and tweets almost daily.
Rahul strategists would like him to shed the image of the dynast and a privileged rich boy who has no clue about India. Instead, they want him to be seen as the alternative to Modi. But before that he must first revive the party from grassroots level.
He should promote the second rung leaders and appoint the right man for the right job. He must listen to the voices of experience within the party. Secondly, he should also try to emerge as a successful opposition leader and untie the opposition. Right now it is Sonia who is doing that job. Thirdly, and most importantly, the Congress needs to find a new narrative. Sonia Gandhi was successful because she thought of the ‘aam aadmi” slogan in 2004, which clicked well with the electorate. Just Modi bashing is not enough to get votes. He should be able to convince the people that he will be the alternative.
Rahul got everything in politics in a silver plate. He had the family name; he is young and presentable, had good opportunities in politics and reached the top in the party.
Now he should not miss a second chance if he comes back. A wise leader would grab the opportunities and Rahul has missed many so far. (IPA Service)