Party factotums fret as an indecisive Rahul shies away from role

Party factotums fret as an indecisive Rahul shies away from role

Party factotums fret as an indecisive Rahul shies away from role

It is rare to see several positions being available for the asking for a particular person and that person is reluctant to take any. But such a thing happens, if you are a certain Rahul Gandhi. 

No one, perhaps except Rahul himself, knows if he is ready to take the plunge to become the leader of the Congress party replacing his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi. Or, if convention is set aside, become the leader of Lok Sabha, replacing Pranab Mukherjee who will be moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan or join the Manmohan Singh government and hold a cabinet berth. Positions are begging to be occupied, but the Gandhi scion is unwilling/unenthusiastic/hesitant/indifferent --  or certain -- that he will not take them. In the absence of any information leaking out of the famous wall that the Congress’  first family erects around itself, there can be only conjectures.

Thus the frustration among the party rank and file and leaders as articulated by Union law minister Salman Khushid recently. Noting that party lacked ideological direction (read from the first family), he remarked: “The fact is that he (Rahul) is undoubtedly and unquestionably the number two leader in the party. Yet he has not taken up the mantle or accepted a functional responsibility. He is so far not willing to accept the number two position. In such a situation, we have to wait. This is a waiting time….” He added: “So far, the Congress had seen only “cameos of his thought and ideas.”

The remarks raised the expected storm in political circles. Congress leadership, struggling to cope with it, directed the suave minister to clarify, which he did saying media ‘wrongly interpreted’ his statement, an expected line from a politician. But then, many in Congress -- in private -- agreed with Khurshid, not to speak of glee on the BJP leaders’ faces.
 Congress leaders want Rahul to take a decision now, either to take over the party leadership or get apprenticeship done in government. Prime minister Singh has openly invited him to join his cabinet, seniors like S M Krishna issued statement on the same lines, but the ‘yuvraj’ appears to have not made up his mind (Rahul’s Lok Sabha page cites ‘promotion of primary education, issues related to the empowerment of the dalits and other oppressed sections of society, preservation of marine environment and international affairs’ as his areas of special interests.) Some say he will not join government or get elevated in the party till 2014, when Lok Sabha goes to polls.

Rahul, who is involved in the affairs of the party’s students and youth wings as general secretary, has been touring the country for the last several years. But this has started inviting snide remarks as a party leader asked: “He seems to be on an eternal learning curve. His tour of the country is fine, but how for long?”

Reluctant backbencher

While Rahul has not set Parliament on fire with his speeches – he is known to be a reluctant backbencher who has delivered 2-3 lacklustre speeches so far – the two major challenges that he took up have turned out to be a disaster for him and for his party --the Assembly elections in Bihar in 2010 and few months ago in Uttar Pradesh where the party was decimated. This, coming after the 2009 LS elections in UP – in which Rahul was actively involved – where the party performed creditably winning 21 of the 80 seats.

Many thought – especially the party leaders and cadres, those who have invested faith and trust in him – that 2009 was the turning point. It was not to be. In a matter of three years, there is a turn around for the worst, as he lost Bihar and UP. It was a dramatic decline from the high of last LS polls. In addition to this, there is a section within Congress which says that while Rahul works hard during elections, he disappears for months thereafter. That his views on policy issues and matters of governance or problems facing the people are barely articulated.

  Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar spoke for many in the Congress when he opined, “There has to be a division of responsibility at the top. I want Rahul to articulate party views on important issues.” Said another leader: “ I’m baffled by his continued silence which is unsettling. He is sincere and had to work in an unfriendly environment, with scams all around. But time has come for him to take up bigger responsibility with the parent Congress organisation.”  Said another commentator: “If he does not take the plunge now, it may be too late when he actually decides to.”

It is now almost certain that he will not join the government, despite the fact that UP elections are over. But then, many more are coming before the big test in 2014 : Assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Rajasthan in the next ten months and the first four are ruled by rival BJP. Party organisation is near absent in the first three states despite heavyweights adorning the AICC especially from MP. Said a worried leader: “The party organisation has become so weak that it does not have efficient leaders to develop the party in the states. In the years to come this may pose a major problem for the party.”  

The Khurshid statement brings to the open the harsh reality that all is not well in the party. Endless scams, price rise, failure to give effective administration, trouble from the allies, not to speak of embarrassing defeats in three states in May, lack of policy initiatives etc have all combined to put the stage-freight in Rahul more than ever.

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