Rahul Gandhi: Miles to go
By Santwana Bhattacharya - NEW DELHI
Published: 29th Jul 2012 08:24:06 AM
It was on July 19 that Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi spoke up and said he was ready to play a “more proactive role”—in the party and the government—and left it to his “two bosses”, party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to decide ‘when’. It was the first time in his eight-year-old career in politics that he had said as much.
Ten days after, his bosses have not been able to take a decision on Rahul’s future. Indications from senior Congress leader Janardhan Dwivedi on July 20—“it may happen any day, once he has made up his mind, the wait is over’’—are about to be proved wrong. The waiting game is still on.
Amid much speculation, feverish back-channel confabulations and statements by minor players, the much-awaited announcement on Rahul’s future role has been conspicuous by its absence. The clearest signal has now come from the Rahul camp that he may be relinquishing thoughts of entering the government, and from none other than his mentor and advisor, Digvijaya Singh, who held a long meeting with Rahul on Thursday.
“I want Rahul to take a larger role and prepare the Congress for the 2014 general elections as our leader; I do not want him to join the government,” Digvijaya said on Saturday. Coming from someone close to Rahul, Digvijaya Singh likely expresses Rahul’s own views. Or that of Sonia, who may have been persuaded by one logic: that it would not be wise to disturb the status quo in the UPA at this stage. Rahul’s coming out generated reactions among other top quarters. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told a Malayam TV channel on Saturday that Rahul will do “very well in government or the party or in the House’’. But that probably does not count for too much under the circumstances. For one, Digvijaya is closer to Rahul, and is thus seen to be voicing sentiments reflecting Rahul’s, or is seen as likely to influence him. Second, other negative factors don’t really change.
To begin with, there are some key contests lined up in the immediate future. The vice-presidential election is on August 7, and Hamid Ansari certainly has a tougher fight on his hands than Pranab Mukherjee did. Immediately after that comes an even more keen-edged contest for the deputy chairmanship of the Rajya Sabha.
After Rahman Khan’s stint ended, he is sour at not being named for another stint. P J Kurien is being seen as the Congress choice—a sop to the Christian lobby. Now, since only Rajya Sabha MPs vote in this—and this is the House where the UPA is in a minority—it’s imperative that there be no sulking ally, supporting party or even Congress lobby.
That is, no reshuffle in the interim, “nothing that disturbs the status quo’’. “A reshuffle always means some unhappiness and the party cannot take such a risk, before the Monsoon session,’’ a senior Congress Rajya Sabha MP said.
The implication is clear. Rahul’s elevation to the government is not as straightforward an affair as it might have been assumed. In fact, it’s become obvious that there are forces at play within the UPA, including the Congress, who seek to resist it. And, in the face of tacit but strong opposition, the Rahul camp seems to have gone in for a tactical retreat for now, settling for a consolation prize in the party hierarchy instead.
The timing of this—a shakeup in the party—too has to be handled delicately. It’s likely to be after the Monsoon session (August 8-September 15) and before the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh election season warms up. A September deadline is what the Congress top-brass seems to be looking at.
By speaking of his willingness to don a ‘proactive role’, Rahul was responding not just to a long-expressed desire of his partymen that he take a leading role in revitalising Congress fortunes, but also to immediate pressures. First, Salman Khurshid had hinted at the party’s desperation at Rahul’s seeming reluctance to step up politically. Then Sonia spoke up and said it was up to Rahul to decide when it was time. Next day, Rahul made his ‘I-am-ready’ statement.
But clearly, it wasn’t just a question of Rahul turning up and naturally becoming the helmsman. The sequence of events is crucial. The very day Rahul spoke up, NCP heavyweight and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar threatened to quit the UPA over a seemingly unrelated issues.
Now, a generational shift seems like a good thing to everyone - except the old guard.