Just a MP (2004-2007)
Before Rahul’s entry as the candidate for 2004 Lok Sabha election, the sleepy rural Amethi which had been represented by Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi in the past was held by Sonia Gandhi. The new candidate started touring the bumpy Amethi roads in a Toyota Qualis. Sonia shifted to neighbouring Rae Bareli.
Rahul kept himself confined only to constituency affairs during the initial phase. He was routinely asked when he will take up a larger role in party affairs of Uttar Pradesh — where the Congress suffered under feeble leaders — and Gandhi maintained, “right now I am only concentrating on Amethi”. He streamlined medical facilities for Amethi residents and introduced application forms for visitors seeking help.
Although he failed to attract the much-needed major private investment during this period, he actively promoted Self-help Groups for rural women, a movement that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah now wants to emulate in J&K. He regularly visited the constituency. But even his entry and efforts to build a cadre system failed to sweep the assembly seats in the UP House election for the Congress — a political sore that still remains uncured for the party in the Gandhi family bastion.
General Secretary (2007-2013)
With a lot of fanfare, he announced that meritocracy and democracy will be promoted in the party. His first step in that direction was to revive organisational elections in Youth Congress. The experiments yielded mixed results: While a breed of new leaders like Meenakshi Natarajan and Ashok Tanwar came up in the forefront, critics point out that these elections too, have become an expensive affair. Many relatives of the old guards also managed to squeeze in, easily breaking the check posts.
Gandhi also managed to secure more tickets for young leaders in the elections. He’s argued that in seats where the Congress is losing for many years, new faces should get a chance — a logic that couldn’t be resisted by the vested interest groups and found instant support from the top leadership.
The grand old party also saw introduction of corporate flavour in its functioning. Gandhi preferred power-point presentations, bullet pointed documents in internal meetings. Many Congress leaders discovered that laptops and computers are essential for doing politics in 21st century. But Gandhi’s preference to take along youth Congress leaders in his tours and keeping old war-horses at bay, created confusion — a move that was later corrected.
Party vice-president (2013 onwards)
With a free hand to take decisions, Gandhi has taken the big leap forward in internal reforms and influencing public policy. He has done away, to a certain extent of effectiveness, the ‘quota system’ of ticket distribution in elections. “Now at least three levels of panels are there to scrutinize applications. Gone are the days when the state Congress chief, the general secretary in-charge and the assembly leader would huddle and take away their quota of seats,” says an aide.
While senior leaders still have a leeway to promote their kin, candidate’s proposals have to justify why they are better bet than other aspirants. “Interviews are held and no one can complain that he was not given a chance to present his credentials,” says an aide. Recently, when the Mahila Congress chief and minority cell head were selected, Gandhi led an interview panel to quiz aspirants. “At least 25 candidates were short-listed for an interview for Mahila Congress while eight people appeared for the selection test for minority cell head,” said an insider.
Gandhi has also become vocal on government policies and his imprint in clearly visible in legislation like the land acquisition act or the Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme. He is looking into all aspects of election preparedness and all key appointments in the organisation are done with his approval.