Can Rahul rescue the Congress?

The message from the Congress’s Jaipur convention wasn’t as much about Rahul Gandhi’s elevation – which was a long-due formality – as about the party’s bid to reach out to the increasingly restive urban middle class.

Congressmen competed with each other to shower sycophantic praises on Rahul and his ability to steer the party in the 2014 elections. But they must realize that charisma is just one element in the rather complex process of winning back alienated constituencies. No General can win a war without a cogent plan and committed foot-soldiers.

Governments can formulate policy. But its propagation and effective implementation isn’t possible without robust organizational machinery. And this is one area where the Congress lacks in key states so crucial for returning to power at the Centre. Rahul failed in Bihar and UP because he entered the battle field without a well-oiled army of party workers.

So rather than scratching each other’s backs and celebrating Rahul’s anointment as Sonia Gandhi’s number two, they better get down to doing serious work on the ground. The process is time-consuming and the gap between now and the Lok Sabha polls too short. The challenge is in taking the Jaipur declaration from the drawing board to the ground.

Can the Congress do it? I will refrain here from pre-judging Rahul. Young leaders need to be given the benefit of doubt, no matter to which party they belong. But the Congress, as the country’s oldest political party, enjoys no such concession. It must rise in full force, not as much in search of power as to recover the credibility it has lost with its constituents.

Austerity, humility, honesty and accessibility are the attributes people don’t find in the political class these days. Congressmen are doubly alienated for they have been in power for over eight years and cannot escape the blame for rising popular frustration and anger.

Rahul started well by seeking to neutralise a possible ‘young versus old divide’ by assuring adequate respect, opportunity and accommodation for the old guard while ushering in the new order. His young team will need guidance from their seniors at every other tier of the organization in as much the same way he himself requires the canopy of Sonia’s experience.

Elections due in nine states before the big fight in 2014 will the test of their ability and commitment. They have to give – as has been promised by Rahul – their all to the party and the people of India.

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