Rahul’s political future: A dilemma for Sonia?
To date, she has played her cards deftly, from introducing him to politics, ensuring his entry into Parliament and making him acceptable as an important political entity by members of the Congress party. But the big question remains: Will Sonia taste as much success in charting Rahul’s political future as she herself achieved?
It has not been an easy political ride for Sonia. Taking political hurdles in her stride, Sonia’s priorities regarding her political standing have remained clear and quite well defined. She has remained at the forefront both in the Congress party as well as the coalition government headed by it. Though in the face of criticism of her being of foreign origin, she refused to hold office of prime minister but she heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which led by the Congress party has been in power for two consecutive terms. Politically, thus her position from no angle is weaker than that of the Indian premier. In fact, the premier is more “answerable” to Sonia than the Parliament, the Congress party, the UPA or any one in the government is a well known fact.
Once she said yes to joining politics, there has been no looking back for Sonia. Elected for the fourth term in 2010, Sonia has become the longest serving president of the Congress party in its 125-year-old history. Rahul has been elevated to the post of party’s vice president for the first time earlier this month. The decision was taken at the party’s brainstorming session held at Jaipur (Rajasthan). Without doubt, the primary agenda of Jaipur session was to promote Rahul as the party’s key leader ahead of 2014 parliamentary elections. While the Congress party has not officially declared him as its prime ministerial candidate, the party has certainly been setting the stage for Rahul in this direction. His appointment as vice president is equivalent to formally elevating him to this stature. Now, within the Congress, he is No. 2 with his mother being No. 1. Rahul is answerable only to his mother in the party. Besides, this has put to rest the speculation in the media for some time that whether Rahul will lead the party during 2014 elections, his elevation has confirmed it.
Yet, certain hard realities cannot be ignored. So far, Rahul’s political potential has only been acknowledged and also promoted by his own party. Rahul has no spectacular record to his credit in terms of turning the political tide significantly in his party’s favor. Despite his hectic campaign, the Congress party failed to win assembly elections in several states, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat. However, it must be noted that Indian voters give greater importance to national parties in parliamentary elections.
In assembly elections they opt for local leaders or regional parties. The latter point is proved by regional leaders’ victory in assembly elections held in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat. It was not simply Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s victory in Gujarat, but that of Narendra Modi. Likewise, Mayawati, former UP chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader, was pushed out of power not by a national party but by a regional rival that is Samajwadi Party (SP). Similarly, Lalu Prasad’s failure to secure a comeback for his party (Rashtriya Janata Party) in Bihar was because of a stronger regional rival in Nitish Kumar, who is state chief minister and leader of Janata Dal-United.
Without doubt, regional parties have also contributed to the decline of national parties making them difficult to head a single party government at the center. This implies that prospects of Rahul revitalizing his party substantially to win 2014 elections and form the government without support from allies may be viewed as virtually nonexistent. Ironically, during their previous electoral campaigns, both Sonia and Rahul have given impression of banking largely only on the Congress party and not reaching strategic agreements with regional allies. It may be noted that states where regional parties have emerged strong, have also witnessed weakening of the Congress party.
Equally noteworthy is the fact that the Congress party has failed to produce strong regional leaders. However hard Sonia and Rahul try, it is practically impossible for them to campaign actively in all the parliamentary constituencies by frequently visiting them and addressing rallies there repeatedly. Even if they address a different constituency everyday, they will not be able to frequently visit each of the 500 plus parliamentary constituencies in a year’s time. This reality demands giving greater importance to regional party members, allowing them to emerge as local leaders so that they campaign actively in convincing voters about the party’s agenda.
The Congress has all the right to promote national appeal of Rahul Gandhi. Yet, this may remain confined to pasting his photos on hoardings, posters and elsewhere till the party’s regional members and supporters are galvanized to promote the party’s agenda. Sonia may rest assured about Rahul having gained a firm foothold within the party. However, Rahul has a commanding position but not yet as commanding as that of Sonia. Sonia is caught at a strange crossroads of politics. She is keen on a bigger political role for Rahul. But this isn’t possible till the party succeeds in a big way in 2014 elections by ensuring stronger support from the Congress members as well as its allies. And this places a challenging dilemma before Sonia on how to expand his appeal across the country. This, as mentioned earlier, is impossible without planning the party’s campaign strategically, enhancing its importance down to grass roots, ensuring active involvement of party members and supporters. It is to be watched, whether Sonia, Rahul and other Congress leaders consider these aspects while working on their electoral strategy for 2014 elections. Dynamics of Indian politics demands this and is likely to resolve the dilemma faced by Sonia.
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