Will he, won’t he? For an inordinate length of time, the vexed question of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership has been dogging the Congress as well as the electorate. The latest swirl in the vortex of leadership speculations is that the legatee of the Nehru-Gandhi family may finally relent and accept the party’s mantle at this Friday’s crucial AICC session. Till recently, Rahul was playing his usual dithering self, dodging time and again the responsibility of providing leadership to his troubled and now badly battered party. Of late, the Congress vice-president did try to change tack.
Shedding his usual reticence, he has taken unusually strident public positions in important matters. Consider for instance, the time he vented his anger at his own government sponsored Ordinance shielding corrupt public representatives. Or later, when he spoke his mind against his party’s decision to junk the report into Adarsh housing society scam. In fact, Rahul has picked up a reputation for exhibiting sudden — and some would argue — flashes of futile anger.
There is a context to this sudden performative change. The urgency to up the Congress ante accelerated with the stunning performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its ascendancy to power in Delhi. At present, the political waters appear dangerously volatile with the two mainstream national parties pushed into shifting their respective tactics and strategies for the forthcoming general elections. More than before, a large section of Congress leaders is now aggressively rooting for declaring Rahul as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. But there’s still not enough clarity on the subject. Running contrary to one another, several opinions are doing the rounds within the party. The jury is still out on whether Rahul should lead the charge in these extraordinary elections, which are hardly expected to augment the Congress’s all time low prospects.
For Rahul, the timing for taking charge could simply not have been worse. This is the event the Congress, for months now, has been touting as its winning card. The Congress’s fortunes have dangerously ebbed and there’s little prospect of the tide turning any time soon. Yet the Congress vice-president, in whom the party reposes its full faith — at least publicly so — shows no signs of the maturity one would expect from one so crucial to the party’s future and even destiny.
When Rahul speaks, he generates news. The reason could well be his habitual and astoundingly long spells of silence in and outside Parliament. But even with the silence broken, Rahul continues to be erratic in his interventions — more importantly — in following up his assertions to their logical culmination. Let’s take corruption as a barometer of Rahul’s sincerity or consistency of stand. Despite his public disavowal of his party’s decision on Adarsh, the Congress has refused to take action against the party’s political bigwigs implicated in the scam.
Yet Rahul hasn’t been heard protesting. Or consider the damning revelations of corruption against the Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. Rahul, like the rest of the leadership, is mum on the charges faced by the senior leader. True, given the extent and depth of the rot that has set in the Congress party, Rahul has no easy choices before him. But the one step forward, two steps back tactic, will hardly add to his own or his party’s image. If anything, the hypocrisy of such inconsistency will further hurt the party’s deeply eroded credibility.
So, here’s the larger question: Does Rahul have the leadership competence to extricate his party from the mess and restore to it its lost shine? His political record so far would seem to belie such optimism. But at the moment, Rahul is all the Congress seems to be banking upon to put up a respectable fight in the 2014 elections. Will he or won’t he bite the bullet at last?