If Rahul Gandhi is to succeed, it would have to end with him. The purpose of his politics, as he has said more than once, is to open it up for the everyday Indian. The logical conclusion of this is an end to the concept of high command in the Congress party. In other words, no more Nehru-Gandhis at the helm.
To an extent this has already happened. The last Nehru-Gandhi in public office was Rajiv in 1989 when his term as prime minister ended. That is 25 years ago. The world has changed since, as has India. An entire generation of Indians has no sense of the Nehru-Gandhis largely because there have been none in public leadership positions.
All they have done is keep the Congress alive, which is vastly different from heading a ministry or representing India. Thus far, Rahul Gandhi has approached this summer’s election as if he is preparing for 2019.
His biggest effort has been to introduce primaries in 15 constituencies where Congress workers can vote for the nominee they want as the Lok Sabha candidate. Some were meaningless because no one contested against the principal candidate. This concept can warm up in five years when the Congress could have meaningful primaries in many more seats.
But primaries within the Congress have no relevance for the general public. Rahul Gandhi has been strikingly hesitant on policy matters that affect everybody. His big theme has been empowerment of women but without specifics. For instance, the most powerful woman in the Congress is Rahul Gandhi’s mother which is not a great place to start.
Rahul Gandhi hasn’t told us what we should do about China and its claims over Indian territory. He hasn’t spoken on how he intends to practice reservation for women in the legislature, especially when the Congress is unable to make it work internally.
He hasn’t said anything of import on economic policy. He hasn’t told us how we might provide drinking water and sanitation for Indians; poorer Indians collect faeces of fellow Indians in areas without systems to dispose off and treat human waste.
In short, Rahul Gandhi carries himself as if he doesn’t expect to deal with policy. This is a major clue. It would appear that the Congress vice-president sees himself as a doctor of sorts. His job appears to be to care for his party so it can recover in time and, possibly, thrive. This is not how the first of a new line of leaders would normally behave. This is conduct of the last of the dynasts.
There are other reasons why we might not see a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm again in the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi has maintained equidistance from all. This is a trait which enables him to treat his family of origin the same way as he does anyone else. No fear, no favour. This suggests that he doesn’t see family as a pathway to power. In any case he doesn’t seem inclined to start one.
If he were to stay single, as more Indian politicians do these days, the biological chain would end anyway with Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka Vadra is the wife of Robert Vadra and mother to their children. As long as Robert Vadra is around, Priyanka’s chances of helming the Congress are almost zero.
It is impossible that Priyanka didn’t notice how quickly and how questionably her family’s wealth grew. As Vadra’s wife Priyanka would be expected to have major influence on family ethics. She will have to face questions on the murky dealings of her husband. This possibly limits her political work to two constituencies that her mother and brother have been elected from.
A person who works for family of birth alone can hardly be accepted as leader. Priyanka is only a year younger to Rahul Gandhi. If the clock ticks for Rahul, it ticks even more for Priyanka. Rahul’s morals are not in question. His abilities are. In Priyanka’s case her principles also come into play because of Vadra.
All this brings us to the mother, Sonia Gandhi. She is in the last years of her career with influence waning every week. Her job is done. She helmed the Congress to power for a decade when it was thought to be at its weakest. There’s nothing she can do now. Arvind Kejriwal’s rise lends an archival air to Sonia Gandhi.
It is a mistake to have Sonia Gandhi contest again in 2014. There’s no point in having the mother and the son in the Opposition which is where the Congress seems headed to. The mother can barely intervene when she expects her son to lead the party. She will simply be a spectator, which is a waste of opportunity to groom another from Rae Bareli.
If Rahul Gandhi and his mother were to lose, you never know, it would hasten the end of the dynasty. It would add embarrassment to a process that otherwise might have seemed natural. None of this ought to matter to Rahul Gandhi whose stated aim is to open it up. He’ll have to get out of the way for it to happen.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.