Monday, April 3, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ April 02, 2017

Sinking Congress awaits coronation of inaccessible RaGa to survive and challenge Modi

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (File | PTI)
Will he? Won’t he? Once, that million-dollar question used to be aimed at Prince Charles, heir-in-waiting to the British throne for the last 65 years. But with many more heirs now in line for what is largely a titular position, the old question has become largely academic. The more crucial question that begs an answer concerns India’s erstwhile ‘first family’, the Gandhis. What the nation really wants to know is when the 46-year-old Rahul Gandhi will formally take over the reins of the 132-year-old Congress party from his ailing mother Sonia.
Rahul’s uninformed spin doctors try and routinely spoon-feed the media with some titbits about his imminent coronation. But seeing is believing, and with the young Gandhi more conspicuous by his absence than his accomplishments, it’s difficult to take those pronouncements seriously. Because, truth be told, neither the active nor inactive members of the country’s second-largest political party know when they will get a fully functional chief. Only the occupants of 10, Janpath are privy to that secret.
It’s been seven years since the Congress last held formal elections to choose office-bearers at the central and state levels. Sonia took over as AICC president in 1998 after unceremoniously booting out Sita Ram Kesari in a mid-day coup. She was re-elected in 2001 and 2005. She became party president for the fourth time in 2010, and has remained boss since. Fresh elections were due in 2015, but didn’t happen. Last week, the  Election Commission served the Congress a final warning to hold organisational elections by July 15, 2017, or face the possibility of losing recognition.
Since the Congress has survived under a Gandhi banner for over four decades, this is perhaps the last opportunity for the family to prove its political utility and acceptability. Many fair-weather leaders are already hopping off the sinking ship, and the family is under tremendous pressure to stop the party spinning out of its control. Survival lies in forcing Rahul to pull it out of the dangerously choppy sea. But the question being asked by both old and new Congress leaders and elitist opinion makers is this: Forget capturing power from the Mighty Modi within the next decade, can a Gandhi (Rahul) even drum up a credible opposition to him?
Sonia pushed Rahul into politics and asked him to contest Lok Sabha elections in 2004. He has won from Amethi thrice since then. But the inheritor-in-waiting still needs to erase the public impression of him as a part-time, reluctant leader who performs more vanishing acts than Houdini. As the target of a powerful section of the ‘liberal and secular’ media who hold him responsible for the rise of Hindutva and its icons in India, Rahul also needs to prove that the Congress is not an ideology whose time has gone but, instead, an idea that can never die.
Rahul was appointed party vice-president in 2013 so that he could lead the party during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and eventually replace his ailing mother. He was billed as the youngest challenger to Narendra Modi’s bid for power, but the truth is his road shows and rallies delivered fewer seats than the public meetings that he addressed with his mother.
And that could be one of the reasons for delaying the transition from one Gandhi to another. If Sonia could be credited for bringing Congress back into power twice, Rahul has been held responsible for the party’s plummeting acceptability in various parts of the country. During the past decade, the Congress has shrunk from controlling two-thirds of the country to less than one-fourth. Even if Rahul does take charge of the organisation, it is going to be a daunting task to put life into an outfit that’s gasping for breath.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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