Three templates Rahul Gandhi and Congress can replicate | Opinion
In politics, power is de facto, not de jure. Templates from the past prove it. Take one from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) era of AB Vajpayee and LK Advani. The duo did not always helm the party, yet were always in control of it. They did it as they had the gravitas to wield de facto power.
If he does quit as Congress president, a more compelling parallel for Rahul Gandhi could be the one of PV Narasimha Rao who, after the party’s 1996 defeat, gave up the top organisational office. He chose instead to lead the Congress’s parliamentary party. As Sonia Gandhi was yet to enter active politics, Sitaram Kesri got the party’s reins.
That change of guard didn’t help the Congress. The party kept falling apart, prompting Sonia to move in to stem the decay. It took her seven years to restore it to health and to power in 2004.The Rao template did not work for two reasons: his poor chemistry with Kesri; and the absence of the Nehru-Gandhi family awning. Sonia’s 1998 arrival on the scene stabilised the party.
It also constrained the vaulting ambitions of Rao’s peers. One such man, among others, was Arjun Singh.Rahul is still a distance away from the scholarly Rao’s parliamentary prowess. But he has to take that job, if not the Congress president’s.
Having repeatedly challenged Narendra Modi to a debate in the poll campaign, he cannot now be running away from it.
To make that happen, the 1996 template can be applied in the reverse: Mallikarjun Kharge, who led the party in the 16th Lok Sabha, being made the Congress chief with Rahul taking up his role in the new House.
The Karnataka veteran has lost the election. He cannot be in parliament but has the administrative experience, the seniority and the social identity as a Dalit to head the Congress.
Kharge’s name hadn’t excited the media and the political elite in 2014 when he became the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. But he pleasantly surprised the sceptics with his sense of history, his knowledge of parliamentary procedures and emphatic interventions in chaste Hindustani.
As a makeshift or tenured Congress president, his would be a venerated presence. His advancing years and long stint in public life qualify him for the post.
A leader who has had his innings is an enabler, not a threat for the younger generation. The 52-strong Congress in the 17th Lok Sabha can make a mark by emulating another template: that of the Left formations who dominated parliamentary debate in spite of their small numbers. The largest presence they ever had in the Lok Sabha was 60-odd. They made up for the lack of numbers with subject specialisation and audacious oratory.
Indeed, the Congress has no Somnath Chatterjee, Indrajit Gupta, Gurudas Dasgupta, Hannan Mollah or Mohammad Salim in its ranks. But it has Kerala’s Shashi Tharoor, Assam’s Gaurav Gogoi and Punjab’s Manish Tiwari. While they’d be Rahul’s core debating team, talent can be groomed over the next five years. Who knows?
A few promising parliamentarians may emerge from among the lesser known Congress MPs from the more literate, better ruled states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. A robust issue-based Opposition in the House is a good trigger for popular, on-ground movements.
The responsibility for leading those will also be on Rahul. Quitting the party post doesn’t mean he has quit public life.