Congress circles are again abuzz with the possibility of Rahul Gandhi taking over as the party president . If the change comes through in the coming days, as is being talked about but with little indication of the timings from the party, the 45-year-old will be elevated to the top rank at a challenging time.
The Congress has suffered a series of poll setbacks that began with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which saw the party tally touch an all-time low of 44.
Here are the five big challenges that await Gandhi in the hot seat.
1. Back to winning ways: The Congress, which has ruled the Centre and also dominated the states for the larger part of its history, seems to be a declining force as the BJP expands its footprint. Though the party tasted success in Bihar as part of an alliance last year, its electoral base is fast depleting. If Gandhi takes charge in coming weeks, he will have limited time to prepare for the crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab due early next year. These state polls may well be the first test of Congress ‘president’ Rahul Gandhi.
2. Party revamp: Arguably the biggest job -- reshaping the party machinery to meet the aspirations of a young nation. He will have to tread carefully. His choices are limited and he will have to make the best use of them. A wholesale change or marginalisation of old guard may prove counter-productive. The challenge will be to take all the leaders along as he turns the Congress into a lean, mean fighting machine.
3. Rahul, the vote catcher: The Amethi MP was seen as the architect of the 2014 poll campaign, the outcome though was far from encouraging. But, it was Gandhi who in 2009 Lok Sabha elections won the party record number of seats in Uttar Pradesh, pushing the Congress tally to 206 seats that earned the UPA a second term. His supporters will certainly want to see him repeat the performance across the country and emerge as the party’s key vote catcher.
4. Strong state leaders: In party meetings, Gandhi often speaks about grooming strong leaders in states. He realises that without popular leaders like late YS Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh or Ibobi Singh in Manipur, the Congress has little chance of regaining lost ground. It is easier said than done. Historically, the party leadership has not encouraged strong leaders in states.
5. Policies that also win votes: Gandhi was the force behind several pro-people initiatives and welfare programmes undertaken by the UPA governments. He championed right to information and forest rights acts while extending support to women’s self-help groups but these have not translated much into electoral gains. His vision of entitlement-based politics has failed to deliver so far. It will be interesting to see how he blends poll politics with the pro-people policies.