Challenges ahead for ‘Congress chief’ Rahul Gandhi: Reviving party, finding allies
Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders suggest, will ensure the transition is smooth by striking a balance between young leaders and the old guard. A good show in the Gujarat elections would be a perfect start to his reign.india Updated: Dec 04, 2017 21:21 IST
Rahul Gandhi, who is set to take over as the Congress president, faces the challenge of reviving and rebuilding the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
To execute his long-term plan, the 47-year-old Rahul’s first task will be a revamp of the party. Congress leaders suggest he would go for an overhaul, completing a generational shift in the 131-year-old party brought about by his elevation.
His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who took over the reins of the party in March 1998, has served as the Congress chief for record 19 years.
He will have to ensure that the transition is smooth by striking a right balance between young leaders and the old guard, which in the past had some reservations about his style of functioning.
In his nearly five years as the Congress vice-president, Rahul had tried to open the party to end the heirloom politics but didn’t make much headway.
As party chief, the Amethi MP would have the authority to bring about the changes. His training in Aikido – Gandhi has a black belt in the Japanese martial art that lays emphasis on harmony – will come in handy.
He also has to lead from the front to galvanise an otherwise demoralised Congress cadre struggling to recover after a series of electoral setbacks.
Though the change of guard is happening after two decades, Rahul is confronted with a situation almost similar to what his mother had faced when she took over in 1998.
Apart from internal dissensions, the party then was ruling just four states of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Mizoram and Nagaland.
But in six years, Sonia brought the Congress back to the centre-stage of country’s polity and was instrumental in the party’s victories in 2004 and 2009. At one point of time in her career, the Congress was in power in 15 states.
Nearly two decades later as the 70-year-old Sonia hands over the baton to Rahul, the Congress is again going through difficult times. Not only does it have the lowest ever representation in the Lok Sabha, the party is also ruling just six states – Karnataka, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh and Puducherry.
Rahul has long had the reputation of a reluctant leader, though some analysts say he has displayed greater political acumen since the 2014 election defeat.
A good show in Gujarat, where he is leading an aggressive campaign and has attempted a broad coalition of disparate caste groups, will not only give him a good start but also silence his detractors within the party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state votes on December 9 and 14.
Next year, too, will test him. Retaining Karnataka and dethroning the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will be a daunting task for him and the party before the big one – the 2019 general elections.
The Congress’ national fortunes hinge on its revival in states but intense infighting coupled with indecisiveness to address the leadership issues is coming in the way of the revival push.
The party desperately needs to get its house in order in key states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where it has ceded political space to rivals.
Reconnecting with the middle class, youth and common people who over the years have grown distant from the Congress has been on Gandhi’s agenda for a long time.
He has less than two years to make the Congress fighting fit to corner the BJP-led NDA government on critical issues and present it as in effective alternative.
With around 16 months left for the next Lok Sabha election, he will have to decide on alliances partners to prevent a division of the opposition vote that could help the BJP.
Stitching up alliances perhaps is his second biggest challenge after reviving the party.
Sonia, who turns 71 on December 9, enjoys a good rapport with other opposition parties. Crediting her with bringing together the United Progressive Alliance, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury described Sonia as the “glue” that bound the Congress as well as secular allies.
Rahul will have to be the Congress president, the “glue” and more.