Can Rahul 'darling' revive the Congress?
New Delhi: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi (Photo: IANS)[/caption] Within the Congress—as the hype surrounding his nomination demonstrated—Gandhi has a fawning fandom of many but things are different outside the party. Both, UPA I and UPA II, were coalitions where the Congress wouldn’t have been able to form a government had it not garnered the support of over a dozen other parties. As the 2019 general election approaches, Gandhi will have to demonstrate his ability to get the support of such parties. With hopes of winning a general election on its own akin to a fantasy, such support will be vital for the Congress but Gandhi is still far from commanding the confidence of these parties, many of which may not even accept him as a leader. Many of the UPA’s erstwhile constituents have senior leaders such as Sharad Pawar, Lalu Yadav, and Farooq Abdullah who agreed to coalesce with the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. Things may be quite different when her son is at the helm of the party. There are other imponderables. Besides lambasting the Modi government’s policies and actions (such as demonetisation or the introduction of GST), Gandhi has never spelt out his economic agenda or vision for economic development. Neither is it quite clear what his thoughts are on foreign policy. It is true that during his foreign visits earlier this year, notably to the US, he did impress with his speeches and meetings but even those didn’t provide an insight into what he visualizes as the way forward for India. Even within his party, there are issues to tackle. The so-called old guard in Congress, including people such as Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, and Ahmed Patel could risk getting alienated if Gandhi chooses to create his own team of new faces. That could be detrimental. These leaders still have significant grassroots support—the sort of support that can come in handy if he wants to do well in elections. How he balances his ideas for a new and revamped Congress with older entrenched powers such as these could determine his as well as his party’s future. Life as Congress’s new party boss will be different for Gandhi who is known for his mysterious disappearances and short-notice vacations. There’s a story doing the rounds in Delhi’s political circles and some swear it isn’t apocryphal. Recently, after an internal meeting of the party’s leaders at his residence, Gandhi is said to have asked a senior leader and former minister: “Have you noticed a change in my political language? Now I’m fully into it (politics).” The leader, known for his candour, remarked: “Yes, but I’m waiting for your next vacation.” Gandhi is believed to have patted his colleague’s shoulder and said: “Why are you always so cynical?” //