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Land of the rising son

There has been speculation regarding Rahul Gandhi's role in the affairs of the Congress party, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 02:02 IST

Ever since Rahul Gandhi decided to enter the Lok Sabha from the Amethi parliamentary constituency, which was once represented by his parents and uncle, there has been speculation regarding his role in the affairs of the Congress party. In Hyderabad, where he made his maiden speech at the AICC plenary, it was expected that an announcement would be made about his induction in the organisation as an office-bearer or as a member of the working committee. The formal announcement was never made, but the way he was greeted at the session and the response he evoked made even senior leaders concede that the plenary should, in fact, be considered the launching pad of the latest Gandhi to the national political centrestage.

Three months have passed since Rahul made his speech, in which he asked cadres to be wary of ‘netas’ (power brokers) and not mistake them for real leaders, who had grassroots connection. In this, he struck a note similar to that of his father, the late Rajiv Gandhi, who had expressed similar sentiments in a speech he had made after assuming the office of the prime minister. He also exhibited immense maturity at Hyderabad, where he refused to be swayed by the response he evoked, and seemed to have his feet firmly planted on the ground when he declared that he was willing to accept any responsibility given to him and learn politics from senior leaders before assuming any greater role.

It now appears that the time for him to assume greater responsibility in the party has come. This has been borne out by the events of the past few weeks leading up to the resignation from the Lok Sabha of his mother and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. From the moment she announced her resignation, while flanked by Rahul outside her 10, Janpath home, he has been her greatest source of strength. This was evident in Rae Bareli when, after filing her nominations last Monday, she replied to a question on who would be her campaign manager by lovingly patting Rahul on the shoulder and saying that he would spearhead her campaign.

The Congress president’s gesture made it abundantly clear that he was her most trusted lieutenant in the latest battle against forces that had ganged up similarly against her husband and mother-in-law in the past. Her declaration was made in the presence of her daughter, Priyanka, and son-in-law, Robert Vadra, to drive home the point that in this battle, like in every other, the family was together and united in its decision. The poll effort would be spearheaded by Rahul and others would play whatever part they had to in order to achieve the objective. It was also a display of togetherness before the electorate of the constituency, which was once represented by the late Feroze Gandhi and Indira Gandhi.

In fact, according to reports from the constituency, Rahul has taken complete charge and from Monday onwards, may be camping there till the end of the election to ensure that everything goes smoothly in a poll whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. The only point of academic interest is who will get the more votes out of the two Sangh outfits — Uma Bharati’s candidate or the BJP’s nominee. Rae Bareli has virtually been cordoned off for a large number of Congress ‘netas’ who have been told not to interfere in the electoral process. Knowing the culture of sycophancy rampant in the party, a message has been sent down the line that if the services of anyone from outside the constituency is needed by the party, he or she would be informed.

The recent political developments have apparently firmed up the Congress president’s resolve to rely more on her own decisions than on her advisors, who had made her position vulnerable once. It is not without significance that when Sonia visited Rae Bareli after tendering her resignation from

the Lok Sabha, she has made it very clear that the decision to quit was taken by “the family”. In other words, she relied solely on the counsel of her family, after her advisors messed up the issue, and it was only because of this that she was able to salvage the matter that could have put both her party and the government on the mat. By her resignation, she also sent an unambiguous message that she was willing to make any sacrifice and was not after positions but believed in the politics of principles.

Now that she has left the campaign in Rae Bareli to Rahul, it is evident that some of the advisors may face the axe in the not-too-distant future. In fact, it is also an appropriate time for her to make whatever changes she wishes to in the organisational set-up and get rid of people who have either proved to be dead wood or a

liability. It is not possible for her to carry their burden endlessly when it has been established beyond doubt that some of them are interested in only making money or carrying tales about each other even if it meant hurting the party and the government’s interests.

In this context, the month of May could prove to be crucial and though her advisors may want the emphasis to be on the debate on the office of profit, the Congress president may simultaneously consider reviewing the role of some players in the last episode before she checkmated them by her resignation. It is not known whether she had a confidential inquiry conducted on the affair but if she did, then the best time to act on the findings would be around the middle of next month, when she is back in Parliament with renewed mandate and Rahul by her side.

It could also be the appropriate time to put Rahul in a position of responsibility in the organisation so that the burden on Sonia is reduced and the old political equations that have stopped working effectively could be changed for better results. And if the large role Rahul is playing in Rae Bareli is any indication, the time is not very far when he may start assuming greater responsibility. Between us.