Rahul Gandhi has talked of breaking the wall between the workers and the leaders in the party. But who is he blaming?
The Congress’ plenary session endorsed the election of the new party president, Rahul Gandhi, last weekend but his real challenge begins now, as he will be wearing a crown of thorns, presiding over the ‘Grand Old Party’ when it is facing a leadership crisis.
He no longer has the luxury of blaming others for the party’s decline. But at the same time, there is also a big opportunity to steer his party out of the current mess if he goes about it the right way.
Rahul’s challenges are indeed stupendous. He wants to be the ‘change agent’, like many other leaders, but can he change the mindset of the 132- year-old party, which is still clinging to the memory of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and its old glory? He must shed the dynastic claims because the new generation of voters has not even heard of Rajiv Gandhi, let alone Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
The four resolutions passed by the Congress plenary — economic, political, agrarian and international — give an indication of the road map. On the economic side, Rahul has identified two major problems — the agrarian crisis and jobs. He promised that if his party came to power, they would set up farmers’ markets in every district, waive farmers’ loans, and get them credit from the banks. He also addressed other relevant issues like meeting the aspirations of the youth, as well as education, economy and religion. These are good but what the Congress needs is a new narrative, like Sonia Gandhi found the “common man”.
The second challenge is the organisation, which is practically non-existent in some states. There is need to build the party from the booth-level. This cannot be done in a day or a month or a year. It needs commitment and hard work. Insiders say Rahul is already working on recruiting party workers who can remain in target districts at least 20 days a month. Even if he succeeds 20 per cent in building the party, it will go a long way. Moreover, the party needs the right caste arithmetic to counter the surging BJP. The Congress has shrunk electorally. In the polls held to various assemblies since 2014, it has largely finished third or fourth. It also has to win sections like the Dalits and the Muslims back into its fold.
The middle class is also disenchanted, while the poor are looking elsewhere. The upcoming polls in Karnataka will be an acid test for Rahul’s leadership as the BJP is going all out to snatch the state from the Congress. Then come the elections to Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram at the end of the year. There is a good chance for the Congress to snatch the first three states in a direct fight from the BJP and retain Mizoram.
Thirdly, Rahul has talked of breaking the wall between the workers and the leaders of the party. But who is he blaming? For the past 20 years, his mother Sonia Gandhi has been at the helm of party affairs and he has been the vice-president since 2013. Why did they not break this wall? The workers may get disenchanted if there is all talk and no action. It is to be seen whether he will be able to make the changes without stirring up a hornets’ nest.
Fourthly, though Rahul has clarified that his new team will consist of the old guard as well as youth, in actual practice, it will be tough to get rid of the seniors who are still chanting about Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. There are already murmurs from the old guard about the way the Congress plenary was hijacked by Rahul’s adviser Sam Pitroda.
Fifthly, much of his success depends upon his new team, and the challenge is to create a new leadership. As of now, the younger leaders he has promoted, like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Gaurav Gogoi and Sushmita Dev, are quite competent, but there are others like Mohan Prakash, C.P. Joshi and Madhusudan Mistry who have not delivered. Then Rahul also has the challenge of nominating members of the working committee with representation for all sections.
Sixthly, the Congress needs to win the perception battle and also communicate better. Rahul has shed his ‘Pappu’ image after the Gujarat polls and improved his presence on social media but he has a long way to go.
Seventhly, Rahul wants to position the Congress as an attractive alternative to the BJP but he also knows that the party is not strong enough to come to power on its own. That is why the plenary decided to forge workable alliances with like-minded parties ahead of the 2019 polls. What he needs is a winning arithmetic to become successful like Sonia Gandhi did in 2004, but the bigger challenge is to become the face of the opposition. Senior opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar are not ready to accept his leadership.
Finally, if Dame Luck smiles at him, he might overcome all these hurdles.