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Call for young Congress leader to head party: Does age matter or is it just a catchphrase?

On Monday, party veteran Karan Singh suggested electing an interim president along with four working presidents to induct “young people into positions of authority”.

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After Rahul Gandhi officially quit as Congress president, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh asked the Congress Working Committee to choose a “dynamic youth leader”. On Monday, party veteran Karan Singh suggested electing an interim president along with four working presidents to induct “young people into positions of authority”.

ThePrint asks: Does age matter or is it just a catchphrase?

Congress will invest in leadership that resonates with new India and its voters

Vinayak Dalmia
Congress spokesperson

Every political party needs a constant inflow of young and fresh talent. But the strength of any organisation is the combination of youth and wisdom, and of experience and energy. The Congress obviously needs to invest, and will invest, in leadership which resonates with new India and its voters. Not only is it going to invest in the health of our future, it will also invest in the future of India’s democracy, because India needs a strong Congress party as an alternative to the ruling BJP.

This can be thought of in terms of a Kamaraj plan 2.0. I don’t mean it literally where senior leaders give up their constitutional posts and go back to the party, but one where Congress leaders, both senior and junior, go back to re-energise and rebuild the party, at the grassroots level, at the cadre level, and from state to state.

Young Indian voters will require fresh energy and fresh faces, but the Congress leadership will be a combination of both experience and energy, youth and wisdom. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has himself, on multiple occasions, spoken about the need to invest in new energy and young leadership.

Modi’s ideas and energy attract youth. Rahul Gandhi depends on politics of entitlement

Narendra Taneja
BJP spokesperson

It’s the talent, honesty and quality of a leader, rather than age and experience that matters. This debate started by Rahul Gandhi, between the young guard and the old guard, is just an excuse for him to blame the old guard for the recent electoral defeat and divert attention away from his failure of not being able to deliver as party president.

For a person to lead India, with nearly 60-65 per cent of the population being young, a leader who can think young and dynamic is needed. This is where PM Modi succeeded. His ideas, energy, vision and imagination for India reflect that of an Indian in her or his 20s.

This is what attracts the youth to him – PM Modi is India’s youngest politician in terms of his youthful ideas, dynamism, optimism, energy level and aspirations for the country.

Rahul Gandhi’s entire campaign, on the other hand, was full of negativity. His overall political persona reeks of the politics of entitlement, which young Indians dislike and hate.

Statements by various Congressmen calling for young leaders point to confusion within the party. These are all designed statements, made to please and stay on the right side of the Nehru-Gandhi Family. Congress needs to go for a deep and honest introspection adopt a language and culture that connects with the masses, especially the youth.

Also read: Congress wasted a month pleading with Rahul, Karan Singh says, bats for young leaders

Modi has proved age is immaterial; it is the leader’s courage that matters

Yashwant Deshmukh
Political analyst

Several things about a leader determine the choice – merit, courage to implement tough decisions, ability to lead people, and whether there’s enough trust and confidence in that person.

An analysis of the 2019 election results by C-Voter showed that first-time voters overwhelmingly voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He worked towards establishing this group as a firm vote bank for the BJP, ever since winning the 2014 election, even as the opposition took jibes at his initiatives such as Mann Ki Baat, or his book Exam Warriors.

These initiatives worked because Modi, despite his age, established himself as a mentor, guide and a friend for the school-going students. The turning point in the 2019 election proved to be this dedicated bank of first-time voters, whose members cut across religious and caste lines.

For the youngsters of this generation, it is a question of competence. In all my data collected through interviews and surveys, there exists a sheer contempt for Rahul Gandhi – not as an individual, but for the lack of meritocracy. Among the first-time voters, which constituted nearly 10 per cent of the electorate, 7 out of 10 voted for Modi.

At the end of the day, it is the leader’s courage that matters; age is immaterial. The need of the hour is for leaders who can lead from the front, and have proven competence and intent.

Old or young, we’ll get a Congress president who acts as a bridge between Gandhi family & CWC

Shivam Vij
Contributing editor, ThePrint

Young or old, Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist or not – these shouldn’t be the most important concerns for the Congress party as it goes about finding the next party president. There should be only one concern: Can this person bring in new votes?

The Congress party’s top leadership is full of Rajya Sabha types who don’t contest elections. But there are old people in the party who are still mass politicians, like Ashok Gehlot. His deputy Sachin Pilot also proved his mettle on the ground, although both couldn’t achieve anything in the Lok Sabha elections where people were faced with a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi choice.

The issue is neither age nor experience. The Congress needs a leader who can give the party a new vision, provide an alternative idea of governance to the voters, give people the sense that the Congress party is both willing and able to serve them. Above all, the next Congress president needs to command the respect of his or her party colleagues.

That’s asking for the moon. There is no one in the Congress who fits the description. Old or young, we’ll only get a Congress president who acts as a bridge between the Gandhi family and the CWC.

Also read: Amarinder Singh urges a young leader to replace Rahul Gandhi to revive grand old party

Congress’s old guard must make way for a generational change in party leadership

Rasheed Kidwai
Political analyst

The Congress’s old guard comprising Motilal Vora, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, A.K. Antony, Manmohan Singh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot and others has been calling the shots since 1980s or early 1990s. It is time for the Congress to bring a generational change in its leadership. Age is not a factor in politics but it assumes significance in the present-day Congress.

The emergence of Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Milind Deora is good news for the grand old party. Together, they can help achieve the vision that Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have for the Congress. These younger leaders will also probably be able to attract the middle class, youth and women voters in the northern, central and western parts of the country.

At the same time, it must be remembered that the Congress has a history of holding age against its veterans. In 1969, Indira Gandhi had fought a protracted battle to sideline Morarji Desai, S.K. Patil, S.B. Chavan, Gulzarilal Nanda and many others. K. Kamaraj, who helped shape Indira Gandhi’s career, had later described her rather ruefully as ‘a big man’s daughter, a little man’s mistake’, referring to himself as the ‘little man’.

During 1983-85, Rajiv Gandhi relished ignoring and slighting leaders like Kamalapati Tripathi, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Pranab Mukherjee, P.V. Narasimha Rao among others. In Sonia Gandhi’s Congress, Sitaram Kesri and Narasimha Rao were humiliated.

Older generation should guide gen-next leaders, not chase Congress president’s post 

Siddharth Urmil
Intern, ThePrint

Rahul Gandhi’s resignation has given the Congress an opportunity to transform itself into a party that can connect with the people and understand their problems.

The older generation of leaders should play the role of a teacher or a guide to the gen-next, instead of chasing party president’s post.

The Congress, under a new young leader, will be able to tap the energy of a young India – more than 50 per cent of the population is under 25.

For a younger leader, it would be easier to connect with this population and listen to their concerns – from lack of quality education and fewer job opportunities to the need to develop an ecosystem for startups.

For one, Rahul Gandhi’s successor should not be the son or daughter of a party leader but a worker who has risen from the ranks and is aware of the ground reality. It’s time the party stops the tradition of passing on the baton from parent to child. The voters have rejected the Congress’ dynasty politics in 2014 and 2019.

There is also a need to restructure the party organisation and allow young Congress workers to come up with fresh ideas on how to take the party forward.

In the absence of any strong opposition, the Congress will remain a prominent political entity for a while. But if it wants to bounce back and win elections, it needs to go for a complete overhaul.

Compiled by Shauryavardhan Sharma

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  1. Age is only one ingredient. However, the next Congress chief needs a lot of energy, even aggression. Sixty would be the outer limit.

  2. Yes, the consensus comment remain the same – it is the youthful thinking and being relevant with the time that makes a leader young, age too remaining a factor for a lively chord with the youth. If age only was the factor, Rahul should have succeeded in comparison to Modi. He could not proving the age only is not a factor.
    Congress is struggling with the dual dilemma – the young and dynamic leadership and shedding the dynast image. Dynasty, which had so far been asset has now become the liability all over – be it Lalu’s son, Mulayam’s son or anybody else.
    A rather dangerous comment has come up that the top Congress person should be a bridge between the ‘Family’ and CWC – that means inter alia the Family would prevail over CWC and the Party eventually! Congress, in fact, does not lack the young or youthful leaders, it lacks the will to promote those in place of family or family loyals. There had been times when the leaders from Youth Congress or it’s student wing leaders would migrate to mainstream. It has slowed down in recent years.
    The most vital question is whether the Congress at all feels that it has a historical role to play even in the face of landslide mandate for BJP. If it does, it should do everything to catch the imazination of the society at large.
    It is very much doubtful that the family is desirous to loosen it’s grip over the party. The Clarion call of Rahul about accountability did not make many to resign still. These means a lot for the party. That the CWC is taking lot of time to take the call also speaks a lot. Lot of thinking must be going on in the background including in the family and lastly The Comment that the incumbent should act as a bridge between the Family and the CWC might very well prevail. Rahul could not be acceptable not only because of his dynasty, but more because of his immaturity and incompetence. And many of his own leaders did not own him and did not support him heartily. He is correct when he says that at times he felt alone. Why this had happened? Definitely not because of his being the Son of the family, but largely because of his inability to inculcate the confidence and take his people along.
    Given this situation, the debate of Young vs Old is irrelevant for the party. The most relevant point is whether the Party at all wish to reinvent itself and make out a strategy to sell itself and more importantly whether it recognises itself as a dynamic opposition and a govt in waiting.
    Leaders like Vajpayee and Modi always remain youthful and connected to the dreams of Young India despite their age. No leader, as on date, is comparable to Modi in selling dreams to young India – the dream of a corruption free country, dream of a robust self reliant India, dream of a super power India. The Leadership, after all, is all about selling the dreams at the first place – the achievement of the dreams may actually be a deferred accomplishment. Modi was able to sell a set of dreams in 2014 and quite another set of dreams in 2019. That is his persona ! People who now question the equity and wisdom of electorates in deciding the mandate are committing another blunder. In a more matured democracy like US, Trump too could sell his set of dreams and continues to do so every other day.
    A leader and a party need to be connected with the psycosociological status of the prevailing time and get it correct. In plain words this is being relevant with the time.
    Now it is upto Congress to address itself properly, question itself and prepare itself. Sooner it understands the pulse of the people – better for it and more better for the country!

  3. At least, this demand shows that Congress has finally accepted what everyone was talking about all these years: “Rahul is NOT either ‘young’ or ‘Youth’ as he was described by these party men”.

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