Is it coronation time for Rahul Gandhi?

Thanks to the inaccessibility of the present Congress chief, the situation is even worse.

A report by Amitabh Dubey on the way the cookie might crumble within the Congress party, has caused pundits to carry neatly folded clippings of the document and make appearances at parties with the sort of glint in their eyes which comes from knowledge.

Universal credibility was accorded to the report because he is the son of Suman Dubey, Rajiv Gandhi’s schoolmate. No surprise, then, that Amitabh knows Rahul Gandhi quite well. As director of London based market research consultancy, Trusted Sources, Amitabh is required to keep investors, who are his clients, posted on important political events in India. Heaven knows how the story leaked.

Grand old party

The inside page story on October 30 carried the headline: “Rahul Gandhi as PM will galvanise Congress, says his analyst friend.” The repeat on November 5 had a different heading: “Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress chief in weeks.” Then on November 6 “Rahul Gandhi now needs to rewrite campaign.” The first sentence in this story was:
“Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of India’s Grand Old Party shortly...”

Just when the pundits had begun to greet each other with that I-told-you-so bravado, the chairman of the Congress media department, Janardhan Dwivedi, who occasionally knows, said something which was neither a confirmation nor denial of Amitabh Dubey’s appraisal, just a statement to keep the issue, and himself, in play.

Dubey’s report for his business clients had also hinted that Manmohan Singh may be on his way out by 2012, when the crucial UP elections are due. The implication was that a more dynamic Rahul Gandhi as prime minister might impact more positively on the Congress outcome in UP.

Alternatively two other reliable candidates mentioned were defence minister A K Antony and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar but the first was ‘too slow’ in taking decisions while the second had ‘no administrative’ experience. Names of Pranab Mukerjee and P Chidambaram were mentioned with the rider that the open spat between them may have ‘hurt their chances.’

Dwivedi answered media queries in these words: “There is no suspense about it. He (Rahul) has a role, which is increasing constantly. In natural course, his role will go on increasing. This is what Congressmen want and this is what in their opinion is natural.” He then tosses the political googly: “Congress president Sonia Gandhi is here to lead the party and she will decide what to do and when.” This does not contradict earlier stories, only places the coronation cap in Sonia Gandhi’s hand.

The Congress sometimes divides itself into three coteries even though the principals, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi are by themselves mostly in one huddle.

Sonia Gandhi’s unfortunate health is no longer a mystery. What is not known is her ability to cope with the workload Congress presidentship requires, now that the election season is opening up. It makes immense sense for the family and well wishers for Rahul Gandhi to be strategically positioned to step in just in case Sonia Gandhi’s health requires him to.

This, it turns out, is Rahul’s best bet for the time being until the UP elections are out of the way in March 2012. Should the party do as well as some leaders like Digvijay Singh expect it to, Rahul’s time will have arrived to lead the party in the 2014 General Elections as prime ministerial candidate.

But the swollen ranks of pessimists on that score within the Congress may tend to obviate that possibility.

In which case Rahul follows his mother’s formula: Heads, I win; Tails, you lose. That is, I remain leader either of the ruling party or the one in opposition. I am only 41, I can wait and watch. And build the party.

For a party which is squeamish even about carrying out even minor cabinet reshuffles, I don’t see how people are contemplating high voltage drama like looking for a prime ministerial change in such perilous times. So, Manmohan Singh stays on as prime minister even as his detractors rub their eyes in disbelief, astonished that “The old man hath so much blood in him!”

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