Hits and Misses
Rahul Gandhi has not yet been anointed back to the position of Congress president, which he had given up after leading the party to a massive defeat in the general elections two years back. He had refused to withdraw his resignation despite entreaties to do so by party elders as well as the rank and file.
But recent events have made it crystal clear that he remains the driving force behind crucial decisions made by the party to tackle various issues. In fact, it is becoming apparent that he is trying hard to impart a new look to the Congress. A decisive drive appears to be underway to promote younger people within the party. At the same time, efforts are being made to import younger leaders from outside, sometimes even at the cost of senior leaders.
Rahul Gandhi appears to have learnt a lesson from veteran leader Jyotiraditya Sinha leaving the Congress when he could not be suitably accommodated after Kamal Nath became the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Many other leaders have similarly left the party, when they could not be suitably adjusted against party or public positions, or they did not get what they thought they deserved.
An example of Rahul Gandhi’s new strategy to revive the party fortunes is the operation in Punjab, when a new import, Navjot Singh Sidhu was made the state unit President despite the opposition of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. It is another matter that the move misfired. Because of ham-handed handling of the issue, Captain Amarinder Singh felt humiliated and quit as Chief Minister. Later, Navjot Sidhu also quit as Pradesh Congress president as he could not get his way in the formation of the new state government.
But Rahul Gandhi has made a very impactful move by bringing in Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani into the Congress. It will help the party a great deal when Gujarat goes in for Assembly elections in about a year’s time. The two leaders joining the Congress will also help the party at the national level.
All in all, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is a mixed bag. Imparting a fresh look to the party is good. But the art of dealing graciously with people, whom you have to discard, appears to be missing.
The next challenge for Rahul Gandhi would come in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, both states ruled by the Congress. There are already reports that a year or so before the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may have to make way for Sachin Pilot. How this is managed will test all of the Gandhi family’s political skills. A similar scenario may emerge in Chhattisgarh.
Rahul Gandhi will have to face more such challenges before succeeding in his attempts to remould the Congress to make it fighting fit.