His elevation as his party’s prime ministerial candidate is set to be a smooth affair but Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s key challenge lies in consolidating his position as the leader of the UPA dispensation, feel coalition insiders.
With little administrative experience in his kitty, 43-year old Gandhi’s possible anointment as the PM-hopeful has already evoked mixed response in the UPA circle. NCP boss Sharad Pawar, had ruled out him working under Gandhi, in case the latter becomes the prime minister.
“He is yet to prove his seriousness for the PM’s post. Being merely a rebel within the Congress system is not enough,” observed a senior UPA minister.
Gandhi, in his earlier avatar, was perceived as a strong proponent of ekla chalo re (go alone) theory to strengthen the Congress organisation: He had preferred snapping ties with the RJD in Bihar in 2010 assembly polls and scuttled a possible seat sharing deal with the Samajwadi Party in 2009 Lok Sabha election. In 2009, Gandhi visited Tamil Nadu but spared no time to meet DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, sending shockwaves in the UPA establishment.
Last year, during an interaction with students in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi had squarely blamed “coalition compulsion” for the UPA government’s failure to check inflation.
His close aides claim that Gandhi’s inexperience or age would not be an issue. “From Barack Obama to Arvind Kejriwal – there are several examples where people have supported a leader without caring about age or experience”, said a general secretary of the Congress. Another leader emphasized, “support the partners would be based on the party’s policies and programmes and they are well-known.”
Another leader pointed out that while Gandhi wants his party to expand, he is not unaware of ground realities of coalition and enjoys good personal rapport with many opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar.
While both Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known to be in regular touch with estranged allies like the Left or the Trinamool, Gandhi has so far avoided attending the UPA coordination meetings. “He may do so, if named as the PM candidate,” said an aide.