The Congress has done a wise thing by not naming its vice-president Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate in the coming general elections. Because Gandhi is not ready for such a role.
The Congress may trot out its own set of reasons for not naming a prime ministerial candidate: that it has traditionally never done so before an election; that it has many leaders who could fit that stature and that it does not need to anoint anyone in particular; and that it doesn’t believe in setting two personalities against each other in an election.
But these reasons are flimsy given that its main challenger, the BJP, will go into the fight with such a powerful contender as Narendra Modi. The disadvantage of a party fighting an election with no single personality to take on an opponent with a clear PM nominee is a no-brainer although strangely it does not seem so to the Congress.
But that’s not the point. After his maiden 80-minute TV interview, wh-ich left most viewers deeply underwhelmed, it’s clear that even if Rahul Gandhi were named as Congress’ candidate, it would have been an unwise decision. Gandhi was brave in agreeing to a long interview with a journalist known for his pugnaciousness. Also to his credit, he came across as honest, earnest and sincere.
But while Gandhi reiterated his well-known positions on a systemic overhaul of the Congress, empowerment of women and transparency, he said nothing of substance; he avoided direct questions on specific corruption charges against at least two Congress leaders, a sitting CM and another who was dismissed; and he said nothing on his vision for India. In fact, he rarely has.
What is his view on economic development and employment? For that matter, what are his views on foreign investment, education and India’s relations with Pakistan? As citizens of India, we’d like to know his views on these issues. Instead, we get the same ideas playing repeatedly in a loop: Congress gave us the RTI and the party aimed to lift the lot of the poor through social welfare schemes such as MGNREGA and so on.
In fact, besides nasty hate-posts and spoofs on social media sites and a fresh burst of politicking over his comments on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, Gandhi’s TV interview had negligible impact. It is believed that in the run-up to the elections he will have more interactions with the media, and while I’m sure his interviews will seem better as he goes along, I’m not so sure that the substance will be much different.
In the 10 years since Gandhi entered politics, he has been a kind of an eni-gma. As an MP, he has rarely spoken in the House and never remarkably. Outside, at rallies, his performance has been more than eclipsed by Modi with whom he will be compared whether the Congress deems it fit or not. The one occasion that he created ripples was when he dropped in unexpectedly at a Congress press briefing and spectacularly rubbished the government’s ordinance on convicted politicians.
Gandhi’s writ obviously runs in the party and the government it leads because that ordinance was quickly repealed. More recently, at an All India Congress Committee meeting, he surprised everyone by asking the PM to increase the quota of subsidised domestic cylinders of LPG. Again, the government agreed. Like his mother, Gandhi’s leadership seems to work for the Congress, which as it is requires some Gandhi glue to keep it together.
If this is the case, then why doesn’t he stick to running the Congress, perhaps as a working president or some other designation? It would give him the opportunity to do things that he appears to enjoy — reorganising the party’s systems and empowering the party from the ground up. And leave the hurly-burly of fighting elections to others? Who, you may ask and pertinently so, but that is another matter.
There are, of course, those (even if their numbers are dwindling) who still hope that over time the already middle-aged Gandhi will evolve into a more decisive and less-reluctant leader and perhaps even become a shoo-in for the role of a prime ministerial candidate for the Congress. Except that I, and I presume most of my fellow citizens and voters, don’t think that such a slow evolution should be either on my time or at the cost of my patience.