Congress workers rate the new Rahul Gandhi as good, but not good enough
Congress workers rate the new Rahul Gandhi as good, but not good enough

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Months after he returned from his mysterious sabbatical in a new and aggressive avatar, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi appears to be slipping on the popularity charts.

Although the Congress-led opposition has reason to congratulate itself after it forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do a U-turn on the contentious land acquisition bill, Rahul Gandhi’s personal graph is just not picking up.

The Congress vice-president led a relentless and uncompromising campaign against the Modi government for amending the 2013 land bill. His description of the ruling alliance as a “suit-boot ki sarkar” resonated with the people. In fact, Modi found it difficult to shed this label of being “anti-farmer and pro-corporate” which ultimately led him to abandon the amended land bill.

The Congress rank and file had heaved a sigh of relief when Rahul Gandhi showed signs of greater involvement in party affairs and became more visible and vociferous, especially since he had been virtually incommunicado after the party’s rout in the last Lok Sabha elections. Dejected Congress cadres were suddenly fired with enthusiasm and it appeared that Rahul Gandhi was well on his way to donning the party’s presidential mantle.

But nearly four months after Rahul Gandhi’s return, scepticism is setting in among party workers. “He has acquired the requisite gravitas,” remarked a senior Congress leader, “but Rahul Gandhi is still not viewed as a prime ministerial candidate.”

Not prime ministerial material

This view is endorsed by many others in the Congress. “I agree, a prime ministerial candidate must have vision and ideas,” said another senior Congress leader. “He or she should also display a degree of statesmanship. But Rahul Gandhi has not shown any signs of these attributes.”

While Congress workers are glad that Rahul Gandhi made a mark in Parliament with his short, sharp interventions, they maintain this is not enough. Doubts still persist about his oratorical capabilities.

The embarrassing photograph showing the Congress vice-president’s detailed notes on his intervention on the Lalit Modi debate didn’t help either. This was a rude reminder to party members that the Nehru-Gandhi scion has a long way to go before he can emerge as a seasoned parliamentarian and be taken seriously as a contender for the prime minister’s post.

“These hit-and-run encounters are no substitute for a long, cogently argued speech spelling out his vision on the country’s economy or foreign policy,” said a former Congress office bearer.

Questionable appointments

At the same time, questions are also being raised about Rahul Gandhi’s decisions on organisational matters. The party rank and file is not particularly enthusiastic about the leaders he has been promoting. His favourites like Congress general secretaries Madhusudan Mistry, Mohan Prakash and CP Joshi are extremely unpopular as they continue to be promoted by Rahul Gandhi even though their performance has been below par. His forays to various states are also not making the desired impact.

Similarly, party insiders are also questioning the appointments of state unit heads who are known to be Rahul Gandhi’s nominees. Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar, for instance, has failed to make a mark. It’s the same story in Madhya Pradesh where the Pradesh Congress Committee chief Arun Yadav has proved to be a non-starter. Punjab Congress head Pratap Singh Bajwa is not being taken seriously by the party cadres as the bulk of them still pledge loyalty to former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who has been making strenuous efforts to upstage Bajwa for the past several months.

The latest bungling was recently witnessed in Assam where Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s one-time confidant and former Health and Education Minister Himanta Sarma left to join the Bharatiya Janata Party. The state unit has been in a state of ferment for nearly a year now. Sarma and his supporters had been pushing for Gogoi’s removal and had petitioned the Congress leadership on several occasions but to little avail.

According to party insiders, Rahul Gandhi was not in favour of dismissing Gogoi who won the state for three consecutive terms. Moreover, the Congress vice-president did not want to act under duress. The Congress is expected to pay a heavy price for Rahul Gandhi’s inaction in next year’s Assam assembly polls. The party leadership has called Gogoi to Delhi on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments but it appears to be a proverbial case of too little, too late.

Divisions in the party

Some say that Rahul Gandhi is well aware of his shortcomings, which is why he is hesitant to take over as Congress president. He is lacking in confidence as he is yet to acquire the same stature as party president Sonia Gandhi. It is widely acknowledged by party insiders and their allies that she is still the most credible leader in the Congress and that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can catch up with her.

However, die-hard Congress loyalists have not given up on Rahul Gandhi. They are convinced that vested interests and Sonia Gandhi camp followers were not allowing the Congress vice-president to take charge of the party as this change would put mean an end to their political careers.

“Rahul Gandhi must be given a free hand in running the party or else the party’s fortunes will continue to slide,” a senior Congress leader pointed out. “I agree that the appointments made by Rahul Gandhi in the states have not worked out but you must understand that that his nominees continue to work within the same framework. We need to change that first.”


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