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Can Rahul Gandhi pose a challenge to BJP in 2019 ?

Since it is a foregone conclusionnow that three times Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi (Ra Ga)is going to be the president of the country’s oldest political formation- the Indian National Congress, it is time to have a dispassionate view of the impact of his elevation at the party and the national politics.

While there is speculation on the exact dateof Gandhi’s assuming charge of the party with some saying next month and others predicting in December, all doubts were put to test when party’s present chief Sonia Gandhi confirmed the development saying, “it will be done soon”.

Gandhi is going to be elected by the party’s Electoral College that is in the process of being constituted. Most states and party organisations like the Indian Youth Congress have already passed unanimous resolutions urging Ra Ga to take up the 132 years old party’s mantle.

He is going to be elected at the All India Congress Committee session by party delegates who are being elected in states. The party’s highest decision- making body- the Congress Working Committee (CWC)is expected to meet this month. The CWC will announce the dates for an AICC session.

Scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family had entered the politics in 2004 when he was first elected to parliament from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh that has been sending Gandhis or their loyalists for many decades. Since, he has been in parliament for over 13 years.

Ra Ga is taking over the reins of the party at a time when it is facing multifarious challenges with its credibility standing at the lowest in its political history. The Congress’ tally of 45 MPs in the Lok Sabha is the lowest.It is in power only in five states against its main rival-the BJP- that has its governments in 18 states.

Not only the Congress’s rapport with the people at large stands at a historic low, even Ra Ga’s own political persona does not evoke much confidence among people at large. He has been made an object of ridicule by the media particularly by the social media. The RSS-BJP has been successful in portraying him as ‘Pappu’ in popular mind who is a total misfit to lead the Congress.

Undoubtedly, there are very few positives to his credit in 47- year old Gandhi’s performance in active politics during 13 years but then it has be admitted that he suffered from many handicaps also.

Herein lies the challenge to Ra Ga. Is he ready to pick up the gauntlet and lead the Congress from front or not?

Timing for his elevation seems to be perfect, Political stock of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is down. Modi-s personal credibility has begun to erode as more and more people have begun to question his performance and raise doubts over his promises. The country’s economy is in shambles. Unemployment among youth is high as newer jobs are not being created and old jobs are being lost. There is serious stress in country’s agriculture sector with suicides of farmers being on rise.

Non-issues like rewriting of country’s history, Tajmahal controversy, love jihad, cow slaughter or for that matter building of Ram temple at Ayodhya have come to replace Modi’s developmental politics. Cracks in Prime Minister’s Teflon image are visible.

Social strife, use of violent means to settle political scores, intolerance, mutual distrust among different strata of society and fear among minorities particularly among Muslims is on the rise.

There is a general belief today that the Congress alone can take on the BJP. People are looking towards the Congress with hope. They expect the Congress to rise to the occasion to win people’s confidence.

Task for Ra Ga is clearly cut out and he has to prove himself now by taking the old and young leaders along. Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat are going to take place in next two months. By announcing incumbent chief minister of Himachal Pradesh Veerbhadra Singhto be party’s chief ministerial face, Ra Ga has displayed political maturity and understanding. He has sent a signal that he is ready to work with the old guard and is prepared to accept the ground political reality.

In Gujarat too, he has been evoking popular response during his recent tours to the state that seems to have rattled and unnerved the BJP’s state and central leadership. Modi has visited the state four times in October alone. It is more than evident now that the Modi government has put pressure on the Election Commission to delay the dates of assembly elections in Gujarat reflecting the nervousness.

If the Congress is able to improve its electoral tally in Gujarat and come close to power then the Congress will definitely come in popular reckoning for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections along with in other state assembly elections in 2018. Credit for this obviously would go to Ra Ga and his leadership will come to be accepted not only by his own party men and women but also by people at large.

Relatively positive outcomes of Himachal and Gujarat assembly elections would set the stage for Ra Ga to establish his credentials but the road ahead is far more arduous and difficult. He would have to build the organization patiently stock by stock taking old and new leaders along.

Ra Ga needs to dispel the impression that he is not accessible to party workers and leaders.  No doubts should be allowed to longer on that he is no a full time politician particularly now when he is the party chief.

At the same time, the party under his leadership would need to offer an alternate vision to the people that is different to the BJP so that the electorate becomes ready to make their choice.

Assessing party’s strengths and weaknesses, Ra Ga would have to steer the party’s course on coalition politics. The new Congress chief would have to display resilience and understanding that he can take like-minded political parties along and is ready to share power. Off late, he has been showing confidence as was evident during his recent US visit. It should be proved beyond any doubt that it was not a fluke or one time performance but he can sustain it for times to come. Task for Ra Ga is huge but not impossible.

 

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.

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