No short cuts to success for Rahul
The media is agog about a larger role for Rahul Gandhi in the Congress organisation. Why now; towards what objective? I’ve no ready answers. If the speculation isn’t without basis, I’d be surprised by the timing of the move.
A bigger role for Rahul in the party or the government must come in the backdrop of a big electoral achievement. Or else, he’d be exposed to sharper attacks from the Opposition as a “product” of dynastic politics.
It makes little sense to me that the Amethi MP who already wields considerable de facto power in the Congress should be assuming formally a higher office in the party at the current juncture. He’d be better off donning the mantle if the Congress does well in the UP polls. He has to pass that test for greater gravitas. A shorter route could be self-destructive.
What’s the big message Rahul and the Congress have for the UP electorate, a TV journalist asked me. An intelligent guess I could make was they should be asking people to give them a chance on having been failed by other aspirants — the SP, the BSP and the BJP— since the Congress’s ouster in the late-1980s.
But where’s the social alliance that can make the Congress be the King or even the Kingmaker? The party’s Dalit, Brahmin and Muslim base has long been stolen in a large measure by the BSP and in some measure by the SP (Muslims) and the BJP (Brahmins). In recent months the Congress has made a strong pitch to regain the Muslim vote. But the battle is three-way still (between the BSP, SP and the Congress) for their support and that of Brahmins in which case the BJP is a player besides the BSP and the Congress.
No matter which side the scale tilts, Rahul’s decision to kick-start his campaign from Phulpur, associated with the Nehru name since Panditji represented the seat in the Lok Sabha in the early post-Independence phase, revived memories of the Congress’s glory days. The last time the party won the seat— that returned Vijayalakshmi Pandit and V P Singh in later years— was in 1984. Since then, Phulpur has cast its lot with the Janata Dal and its breakaway group, the Samajwadi Party.
In 2009, the BSP wrested the seat from the SP that had triumphed thrice on the trot. SP chief Mulayam Singh’s political role model Ram Manohar Lohia had contested and lost the seat to Nehru in 1962.
It remains to be seen whether Rahul will make the wheel come a full circle; whether he’d reverse Lohia’s legacy of anti-Congressism that put Phulpur and UP beyond his party’s reach for over two decades? Invoking his great-grandfather’s legacy, he told a public meeting there on Monday that it was from Phulpur that Nehru led India on the path of development.
Regardless of the outcome, Rahul’s speech at Phulpur before a crowd of 30-40,000 was good by his standards. He struck a chord by talking to the crowds yearning for a change. “It’s in your hands to change your destiny, to rid the state of the Mafiosi and the musclemen who have turned UP into a laggard state,” he said.
The UP mandate is crucial for Rahul’s political career — be it a promotion within the party or the much awaited transition to the politics of governance. If not a winner, he has to emerge from it an impressive loser.