On cusp of change, can Rahul Gandhi lead Congress?

The real Gandhi is a mystery. His actions will tell us the real story. Whether he is a misunderstood leader or a flawed one, his actions will define him. Photograph:( Others )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Nov 20, 2017, 11.02 AM (IST) Kartikeya Sharma

Rahul Gandhi is all set to take over as the Congress President. The change is happening at a time when Rahul Gandhi’s media campaign has started to make an impression on the public. How deep and lasting the impression will be is a question whose answer will only be available in the results of upcoming elections.  It is difficult to assess public figures in sub-continental politics as political structures remain feudal but Rahul’s assessment will have to be done on what he did and what he seems to be doing.

The real Gandhi is a mystery. His actions will tell us the real story. Whether he is a misunderstood leader or a flawed one, his actions will define him as he stands on the cusp of change.

Rahul Gandhi is a leader in search of a victory. His party has seen many but he hasn’t tasted one which can solely be attributed to his abilities.
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On the first look, he is a leader in search of a victory. His party has seen many but he hasn’t tasted one which can solely be attributed to his abilities. He tried his luck in Uttar Pradesh but failed thrice. He is giving his best in Gujarat but the jury is still out on it. In every politics, leaders are foremost defined by their victories and mass appeal. The ability of a leader to deliver elections make or break him.

This rule also applies to Rahul Gandhi. Any victory attributed to him will redefine him. He is in search of his. He is in search of his mass appeal which runs bigger than his party. In our feudal sub-continent, a leader is considered ‘arrived’ when his footprint exceeds that of his party. Sonia delivered 2004 Lok Sabha elections and Manmohan Singh 2009. They were loved and rewarded for it. Sonia as a coalition builder and Mr Singh as Singh is King. Both Sonia and Manmohan Singh changed with the time and so has Rahul Gandhi.
 
Whether it is a lasting tilak on his forehead or multiple temple visits, he has made those rituals public for the larger body to see that he understands the diversity of Hinduism and is keen to participate in it. Earlier, he wanted to change the party and today he wants to be the glue which brings everyone together. His earlier version of secularism was rooted in his European experience but today it travels a civilisational path where the state remains secular but civil society’s behaviour gets moderated by the largest majority of the country.

Obviously, he doesn’t accept its zealotry but accepts that there nothing wrong in expressing political thought through classical religious or cultural idioms like 'machli ki aankh' which did in monday’s CWC which is associated with Arjuna’s ‘focus’ in Mahabharat.

Rahul is both weakness and strength of the Congress party. He unites the party but also ensures that mobility is restricted to the second tier.
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He has a very well entrenched and sophisticated opponent in Modi. He represents the worst fears of the Congress. PM cut from the traditional cloth of RSS against whom the founding fathers of the Congress battled. His life too will be full of contradictions. Rahul is both weakness and strength of the Congress party. He unites the party but also ensures that mobility is restricted to the second tier.

He can allow families greater political space than BJP but cannot stop them for the sake of organisational parity. YSR Reddy’s legacy is a classic example of it when his son Jagan Mohan Reddy rebelled against the Congress.
 
Rahul Gandhi’s journey has been that of privilege but it brought in its own set of contradictions. Rahul was new and untainted. He was fresh with ideas. The Congress party was set in the ways and since Rahul Gandhi came top down, the changes became even more difficult to effect. His ideas drew legitimacy from his lineage and not popular appeal. Things Kejriwal and Modi did Rahul could not because he had to deal with a well-placed power arrangement. 

He wanted to do surgery on a system which enabled Congress to stay in power but also corroded its organisational base. Congress had the freedom of alliance but the very openness became its bane as regional powers profited at their expense. Congress stuck to the status quo, fearing that BJP would come to power. The very right enabled the regime but became an extra baggage as Opposition lumped it as feudal and slow on the industry.

The division of power which propelled Sonia as 'tyaag ki devi' (goddess of sacrifice) was turned into a slogan of PM without authority and Sonia with power but without accountability. These are the paradoxes which affected Rahul Gandhi in the last 13 years. He wanted to be an outsider in a system controlled by her family but got rejected as good pedigree became a bad word. Politics by that time was already controlled by multiple outsiders.

Sonia’s Congress was different from that of Rajiv. Indira’s Congress was vastly different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru and that of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
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It is not known what Rahul thinks of it. He has no choice but to accept the disability and fight with It. In today’s world, the face of an individual defines the body politics of a party. Rahul who was conceived as a part-time politician today has become a full-time consummate politician. He has shown the ability to fight back. He has shown the ability even to force changes in PM’s strategy. It is for no reason that 'suit boot ki Sarkar' - a slogan coined by Rahul riled the BJP government the most.

Every Congress president has refashioned the party in their own image. Sonia’s Congress was different from that of Rajiv. Indira’s Congress was vastly different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. India will now see Rahul’s Congress. Lastly, elevation is a foregone conclusion and easy, but running the party would be the where the real challenge lies.

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma is Political Editor at WION. When he is not working, you will find him travelling, reading or cooking.