Test for Rahul's leadership: resolving party tangle in Punjab
There's a spectacular dimension of politics: smart one-liners, leading the charge in Parliament, impromptu interventions in debates. It can turn a neta into a brand. Fetch him followers on twitter. Make him a favourite of television impresarios.
Rahul Gandhi seems to be getting there. The sabbatical has done him good. Or so it appears. Pundits adept at political ratings have given a thumbs up to his rapid jibes at the NDA regime--on the land issue, net neutrality and Barack Obama's praise of Narendra Modi. Tongue firmly in cheek, he compared the US President's appreciation of the PM with Ronald Reagan's encomia for Mikhail Gorbachev (who presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1980s).
It might be a tad early to adduce encouraging leitmotifs to Rahul's actions and statements. His strategy apparently is to flag issues agitating people in the countryside and cities to aggregate agrarian distress with rising urban disenchantment against the NDA. A proof of that is his seemingly studied silence on the Sangh Parivar's ghar wapsi, attacks on churches and the fears of minorities.
In substantive terms, however, celebrations would be presumptive till Rahul proves his organisational skills, his ability to take everybody along amid discordance that comes with power shifts. An electoral victory in his stewardship alone would settle the leadership question. Nothing less would do.
That brings one to the Congress's pitiable state in Punjab where it stands a good chance of winning the January 2017 polls. Regardless of his elusive ways, there's a broad consensus in the party that Capt. Amarinder Singh is its best bet in the province - where the Akali-BJP regime is hugely unpopular and the Aam Aadmi Party in a shambles after an impressive debut in the 2014 polls.
The sooner the Congress vice-president resolves the Punjab tangle the better.
Factional leaders might have carried tales against Singh for his remarks advocating Sonia Gandhi's continuation at the helm. But the reality that should show Rahul the way is the former CM's overwhelming support in the party's state unit and its legislative wing. Overlooking his claims could amount to risking desertions to AAP and the BJP.
"The captain is our beacon of hope," admitted a sitting MLA not counted among Singh's camp followers. He nevertheless insisted that with Singh as the spearhead, the party must present a leadership mix acceptable to Dalits and Hindus besides the Jat Sikhs.
The central leadership might stitch up the required social combination in organisational changes before the polls. No final decision has been taken. But Singh has the offer of chairmanship of the campaign committee with the promise of a role in ticket distribution. Going by insider accounts, he'd have a say in the appointment of the new state unit chief and legislature party leader.
"We want Singh to be the Congress's willing face in the elections," noted a central office bearer, alluding to his preference for the post of PCC president. It's precisely for this reason that an early decision is imperative on the proposed changes. Or else incessant brinkmanship by rival groups, including the one led by the sitting PCC chief, could widen internal fissures beyond repair.
Rahul would have done his bit if he makes party men sink differences to accept Singh's captaincy. Amarinder for his part has to show statesmanship to rise above groupism in the poll battle that'll be his swan song as the party's tallest leader in the state. He's 73 now and will be 75 in 2017.