Leadership came naturally to the family. The young Gandhi’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi, father Rajiv Gandhi – all led the country. Though Manmohan Singh is now prime minister of a Congress-led government, the supreme power rests with Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi.
However, there is a challenger today and it is the BJP, which has acquired the status of a national party, second only to the Congress in terms of electoral success. Its rise has changed the rules of the game.
With the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, BJP set the trend of formally announcing a prime ministerial candidate before entering an electoral battle. For the Congress it has never been an issue, as everyone inside and outside the party knows leadership can go only to a member of its first family.
A party president from the family and a prime minister from outside the family, or vice versa, is something the Congress has never been comfortable with, though there are past instances of this unhappy coexistence.
At the AICC meeting in the capital on Friday the clamour for Rahul to be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate was not really necessary, for everyone knew who will eventually be anointed. But it was necessary to have a name (and face) if only to have clarity before the campaign for the 2014 general elections begins. Congressmen need to know who is to counter BJP’s projected top man Narendra Modi.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi knows that well. So it is no surprise that a proposal to name Rahul Gandhi as party’s prime ministerial candidate was nuked publicly by her at the Congress Working Committee and AICC meeting.
Analysts believe the Congress decision is to keep Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as prime minister for the future. The chips are currently down for the party, which dreads the coming polls. The Congress leadership does not want to be caught in a trap laid by the BJP to make the elections a Rahul vs Modi battle.
Rahul earlier said he was ready to take up any responsibility the party assigns him, which sparked media speculation that he might be projected as prime ministerial candidate. With Singh having said earlier that he would pass on the baton to the ‘next generation’ after the 2014 elections, the speculation got further grist.
But that is not to say that Rahul won’t be prime minister. He will be instantly anointed if the elections give his party enough numbers. Rest assured, he will be there some day.
As a senior Congress functionary said: “Rahulji is young. He has a long future ahead. He has not been in politics for post and power. He has been doing politics to bring in long-term changes, which meet the needs of a new aspiring India.”
Nonetheless, the young leader is going to lead the party from the front as chief of the Congress party’s campaign committee for the elections. He is still the party’s best bet. The rest of the Congressmen, with their herd instinct, will follow him.
If in the elections the party does well, it will be because of “Rahulji’s leadership ability.” If the results go otherwise, no doubt the blame will go to the “collective responsibility” of the party.