A missing Rahul and its implications

A missing Rahul and its implications

Modi’s tenure is the ideal time for Rahul to forget about prime ministership and concentrate on states.

Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice president and its ‘would be president’, is missing for over one-and-a-half months under the pretext of “leave of absence from active politics” granted by party president and his mother Sonia Gandhi. The sabbatical was purportedly taken for some ‘introspection’.

As the leave lingers with no clarity on when he would return, and where and why has he really gone without intimation to the country and the people, it is natural for his constituency, party workers, opposition parties and people in general to become curious about his absence.

That is made more puzzling because he chose to miss the Budget session of parliament and much of the political activity in which he was supposed to play a crucial role especially coming on the heels of a crushing defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Can Rahul Gandhi, projected as future head of the Congress party, afford the luxury of uninformed long sabbaticals? He is in public domain and such undisclosed and long vacations may also pose a security risk for the country. People have a right to know where he is.

What is the purpose of his visit? If he is doing ‘chintan’, who is helping him in this exercise? Should his party return to power and gives him a chance to lead the country, will he have the autonomy of decision making in governance?

Such inquiries are bound to arise after his return and he will have to answer.
Probably, his ‘long gap’ would haunt Rahul and his party and not only cause repeated embarrassments to them but may also damage them both politically.

There could be possibly three grounds for Rahul’s absence; one, it could be just a long vacation with some very close friends; two, there could be some health issues to attend requiring his physical presence; and, three, there could be political brainstorming at some place. Or, the three might have been clubbed.

One does not remember in recent times any such political sabbatical officially granted and announced. Whatever may be the reason for Rahul in this respect, it is certain that he needed time to take some hard decisions especially on the issue of leadership.

There are two significant trajectories on the leadership front. Despite Sonia’s natural desire to promote Rahul to party president’s job, there are two counter views in the party.

One suggests that leadership issue should not become a matter of inheritance and succession in the Gandhi family, but should be openly contested so that the most deserving one becomes the party leader. The second view is that Rahul lacks the leadership instinct and if someone has to come from the Gandhi lineage, let that be his sister Priyanka. From time to time, Congressmen have been raising this demand at various platforms.

Options before Congress
The dangers in the first option are many. One, the leadership war may take such an ugly turn that there could be a free-for-all situation as there could be many claimants.

Two, the Gandhi family may finally lose Congress leadership forever given the lack of maturity and the tendency to evade responsibility in Rahul. And, three, the party may also collapse and suffer endless divisions in the absence of a cementing Gandhi factor.

The second option of bringing in Priyanka is rumoured to be much effective, but it too has several pitfalls. One, given the male-dominant succession line in Indian society, bringing in Priyanka would not be seen as a direct descent from Gandhi family and may not be as effective and productive in the long run. It will also permanently put an end to the political career of Rahul.

Two, the moment Priyanka comes in, the role of her husband Robert Vadra and his controversial business deals, would come under strong public scanner causing both Priyanka and the Congress severe headaches. That may also become a cause of consternation in the Gandhi family and may lead to souring of relations between the brother and the sister.

In this backdrop, what Rahul might be doing is to contemplate on the call that only he has to take regarding his political career. It is only after his firm no that these options can be given a try.

But should Rahul be persuaded to have confidence in himself, the third option is that of again going whole hog in politics and take the bull by the horn. In view of Modi’s chances of continuing for some time as PM, Rahul is left with limited role of building the party in several states.

But, the question is: will he be permitted to go the way he wants to go in revamping the party? Modi’s tenure is the ideal time for Rahul to forget about prime ministership and concentrate on the states before it is too late. This is high time for Rahul not only to be rediscovered by others, but also rediscover himself.

(The writer is Chair, Department of Political Science, Christ Church College, Kanpur)