On Saturday,one Gandhi era ended and another began in the Indian politics, the largest democracy in the world. Sonia Gandhi officially handed over the mantle of the Congress president to her 47-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, who had been virtually running the India’s oldest party for nearly four years now as the vice president.
Rahul Gandhi was elected unopposed following the election process set in motion by the Congress. No leader stood against Rahul in the election process. It is true that no leader had the guts to stand against him, fearing may be isolation after the certain defeat.
At a meeting, Rahul Gandhi was sworn in as the 16th party president. He took over the reins of the grand old party from Sonia Gandhi, who had been the party chief for nearly two decades now. She was electedthe party president in 1998. She then led the party to power by stitching up a coalition, named United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for 10 years.
The fact that Sonia chose Dr Manmohan Singh to lead the coalition, instead of herself, is now part of history. She managed to control the party and the government, through National Advisory Council (NAC), quite effectively. It was another reason for Dr Manmohan Singh being derided for being a spineless PM, despite his impeccable honesty. People considered this division of power between Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi as weakness and ineffectiveness of the PM.
Rahul was elected as the president earlier this week, when he was in Gujarat where he was leading one of the party’s most spirited campaign against the BJP. Gujarat being the home state of the prime minister Narendra Modi, the BJP had put everything at stake at this assembly election. Any loss here would be described as the beginning of Modi’s downslide. Modi was the chief minister here for more than 12 years – from 2001 to May 2014.
For Rahul Gandhi, the time of transition seems to be better than that of his mother. When she took over, the morale of the party cadres were very down. There were lots of factionalism. Even her election and taking over was not so smooth. In March 1998, the party leaders removed their chief SitaramKesari’s name and replaced it with “Sonia Gandhi, Congress President”. Kesari was close to former prime ministerNarasimha Rao, who ran a minority government from 1991 to 1996. Rao had become the PM after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the husband of Sonia. The Congress lost the 1998 general elections badly, winning just 114 seats.
However, Sonia Gandhi managed to not only hold the party together but also perform much better unexpectedly in the next general elections which threw out Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government. Then for 10 years, she controlled the UPA government, led by the Congress Party.
Right now, it is not clear whether Rahul Gandhi will have a similar time. He had recently led party campaigning in two states – Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The results are expected on Monday. Himachal is mostly to elect a BJP government as the Congress was in power and the state has been rotating the parties in each election. Also, the present chief minister was embroiled in some corruption charges. And Rahul Gandhi did not dare to take risks by showcasing another face for the chief ministership. Instead, he decided to continue with the formula he applied in Punjab earlier this year – where a former chief minster was showcased and he was swept to power, ousting the Akali-Dal-BJP combine.
However, if the Congress manages to win the Gujarat or even manages a close result, it would be seen as a big achievement for Rahul Gandhi and it will serve as a big morale booster for him as well as the party cadre. An excellent show in Modi’s land will undoubtedly provide the fodder for the necessary boost-up before the next general elections in early 2019.
It is true that the party is at one of its lowest ebb. Now the party’s strength has gone even below 50 – once an unbelievable position for the grand old party which had been in power for most years since independence. Rahul Gandhi as the new president will infuse new energy in the party which would help it re-energise the party.
Rahul Gandhi had entered politics in 2004 by contesting from the AmethiLok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. In 2007, he was made general secretary of the party. In 2013, he was made vice-president. Since then, Sonia Gandhi had been slowly withdrawing herself from politics and Rahul has become the Congress’s face.
So Rahul Gandhi has been a failure. He took upon himself the task of reviving the party’s youth organisations, but he failed. He said he wanted to rebuild the party organisation in its home turf of UP, but has only seen it worsen. After his elevation as vice-president, the Congress slid down to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, in the 2014 general election. It was the first time in history that the Congress went below 100 seats.
When Gandhi came out to speak on the result, Rahul merely stood by her side smiling. That was three-and-a-half years ago. In this time, Narendra Modi and his BJP have swept state after state, while Rahul has not been able to give the Congress any sense of revival. A lone election victory in Punjab was credited to the Congress’ regional leader there, Amarinder Singh, whom Rahul famously wanted sidelined.
But these are history. Will Rahul Gandhi will be able to open a new chapter for the party? Will he be able to checkmate Narendra Modi in the next elections? It is true, the youth now seems to have lots of hopes on him. In a democracy, an effective opposition and an able opposition leader is very important for the proper functioning of the democracy.
Taking over the charge, Rahul Gandhi said“Many of us are disillusioned by politics of our time. Today, politics is devoid of kindness and truth. Politics belongs to the people, but today politics is not being used for people. It is not being used to uplift people, but to crush them.”
“We are going to make Congress, grand old and young party. We will fight the politics of anger. You have an example in front of you. Once a fire breaks out it is difficult to douse it, that is what we are telling the people of BJP, that if you set the nation on fire it will be difficult to control,” Rahul Gandhi said while criticising BJP for spreading “the fire of violence across the country.”
Will he manage to rise up to the challenges? Will he be able to meet the aspirations of the youth who find the life more challenging and difficult now?
The young Gandhi scion has big responsibility. Not only towards India, but the whole region where the Gandhis generally commanded good respect and provided able guidance. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi all were well respected leaders in the region.
Will Rahul Gandhi be able to rise up to the occasion?
Vidyadharan MP is the Additional Director (Communications) at the Observer Research Foundation