Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Photograph:( PTI )
Rahul Gandhi will continue to play an active role in politics.
At 50, people in general start actively planning for retirement, but it does not hold true for politicians in India. Indian politics has dynasties which control the functioning of political parties. It roughly means that one can continue to have a long career despite making big mistakes. Secondly, the Indian public is more forgiving. Politicians have made comebacks after years of oblivion or even failed beginnings. Look at the career of Morarji Desai, PV Narsimha Rao or even YSR Reddy, their patience paid off.
Lastly, India loves old politicians. Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was an odd case out. Indians for the last 70 years have supported and voted for old leaders. Even the icon of emergency, Jayaprakash Narayan, was old and bedridden. Narsimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Morarji Desai, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and even Narendra Modi became Prime Ministers in their 60s and 70s. Morarji Bhai became Prime Minister when he was 81.
So, what is the future of Rahul Gandhi at 50? He might not be the party president today, but eventually, he will head the Congress. And hence, he will have to deal with a diminished party, resurgent Hindutva and a mainstreamed RSS in his political life. I would say that even then, Rahul Gandhi cannot be discounted.
First, he is the only dynast at the national level which gives Rahul Gandhi enough longevity in politics. You will never be able to rule him out till the platform of the Congress party is available to him. It means that Rahul Gandhi will continue to play an active role in politics.
Congress has become virtually non-existent in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Delhi, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. It is a marginal player in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. It remains stagnant in Karnataka and Gujarat. North East remains a bigger challenge for the party which has almost been abandoned by the leadership. If we add numbers of states where Congress is non-existent, it comes down to 238 Lok Sabha seats. If we add states, where Congress has become a junior partner in alliances, the number stands at 102 seats. If we add both then number rises to 340 seats. It's here, the challenge lies for Rahul Gandhi. It is here that Rahul Gandhi and Congress will need to focus if it wants to tackle BJP.
At the age of 50, Rahul Gandhi confronts another problem as well - the ideological dominance of right-wing politics globally. Rahul Gandhi will need to merge constitutional nationalism with cultural heritage which Indira Gandhi was able to do.
Lastly, Rahul Gandhi’s biggest challenge is the political mainstreaming of RSS. This was not the case even when Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. RSS is a behemoth compared to the Congress today. Today, it has acquired intellectual heft too. Their views are being published regularly in mainstream newspapers which once reflected Congress view of the world. RSS has always been a cultural organisation with a political heartbeat. It mobilised large parts of the civil society for BJP by being active in non-political seasons. Only time, Congress and Rahul Gandhi could do something similar was during COVID-19 crisis, when party workers helped migrant labourers.
Rahul Gandhi has four more years to prepare for Lok Sabha elections. He has nothing more to lose. The Opposition is fragmented.
Most state leaders have accommodated BJP barring a few like Mamata Banerjee. If Rahul Gandhi is able to become the sole voice of the opposition at the national level, half the job would be done. Leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kriplani, Jayaprakash Narayan or even Charan Singh could never match electoral stature of Indira Gandhi, but they commanded respect and people took them seriously. Rahul Gandhi needs to enter this space.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)