As Loyalists Lobby for His Comeback, Can Rahul Reinvent Himself as 24x7 Politician in 2nd Innings?
When Rahul conveyed his decision to quit after the party’s defeat in the 2019 general elections, it was assumed that he would be persuaded to withdraw his resignation.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at Parliament House during the ongoing winter session, in New Delhi. (Image: PTI)
What has Rahul Gandhi been doing for the past six months after resigning as Congress president? Conflicting signals have been coming from his camp.
Over the last several days, he has been missing from action, although his Twitter handle is active. He has been in and out of the country often, leaving his loyalists to justify his trips abroad even during the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.
Meanwhile, the Congress is gearing up to get him back as the party chief, probably after the Delhi Assembly polls early next year.
"The country is going through a critical phase. The party needs his leadership most now. There is a loud chorus from party workers in different parts of the country and we all hope he will listen to them soon," Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, who is known to be close to Rahul, was quoted as saying last week.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also pitched for Rahul's return as Congress chief soon after, and more will join. “It is only a question of time. He is waiting for an opportune time,” claimed another senior leader close to Rahul.
It must be noted that Sonia Gandhi was elected only as the interim president. It was clear that whenever Rahul was ready, he would come back. Rahul himself had kept the window open in his resignation letter. “I am available to the party whenever they require my services, input or advice,” he had said.
When Rahul conveyed his decision to quit after the party’s defeat in the 2019 general elections, it was assumed that he would be persuaded to withdraw his resignation. But he stuck to his decision, perhaps to teach a lesson to the seniors who did not support his campaign.
Interestingly, the old guard, who prefer to work with Sonia, believe that the decisions taken by the party or Sonia Gandhi had an evident stamp of Rahul even after he quit.
His continued importance in the party affairs is evident from the fact that Venugopal was part of every negotiation related to Maharashtra. Nana Patole, the new Assembly Speaker in Maharashtra, and Nitin Raut, inducted as minister in Uddhav Thackeray’s cabinet, are known to be close to the former Congress president.
Some members of Rahul’s team have been given important positions like Congress Mahila Morcha chief Sushmita Dev, data cell in-charge Praveen Chakravarty, Jharkhand in-charge RPN Singh, Odisha in-charge Jitendra Singh and training in-charge Sachin Rao.
Rahul loyalists, however, crib that the old guard has taken control again and that the Gandhi scion has been pushed to the wall post his exit. Those side-lined include Milind Deora, who quit as the Mumbai Congress chief, former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam, Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, Jharkhand party chief Ajoy Kumar and Tripura chief Pradyot Debbarman. These leaders were handpicked by Rahul Gandhi during his presidency. Hence the chorus for getting back Rahul.
The question that arises now is why did Rahul Gandhi quit and why would he come back? He wanted to prove a point when he quit. He wanted to prove that the old guard did not support him during the general election campaign and that hurt him. After a respectable interval, Rahul loyalists feel that the popularity of the Narendra Modi government has come down in the recent months and that it is time for Rahul Gandhi to come back.
Sonia, too, would like to give back the party presidency to her son. While the party needs a unifying leader, the Gandhis need party support in facing the various cases foisted on them. So the merry-go-round continues, from mother-to-son to mother-to-son again. There is no space for a non -Gandhi at the top.
Though he has no challengers within the party, the road ahead is bumpy.
The rivalry between the old guard and Rahul loyalists should be handled with tact and sensitivity. The second challenge is to expand the party. A membership drive is already on and Rahul must make sure that there is no bogus membership. The third is connecting with the voters. This alone will get the party back to power.
The party may have netted only 52 seats in the Lok Sabha, but got 12 crore votes in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress should convince the voters on how it is an alternate to the BJP.
The fourth challenge is to get the right person for the right job as the coterie culture will not serve the purpose. The fifth is to develop nurture second-rung leaders in states. The sixth and the most important thing will be to reorganize and innovate the party. Wider consultations within the party will go a long way. In short, he should be able to reinvent the party.
For all these, Rahul Gandhi should become a 24/7 politician and lead the party, and the opposition, from the front. Will he take up this challenge in his second stint if he comes back?
(The author is a political analyst. Views are personal)
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