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Can Rahul Gandhi grow beyond cameo roles?

Saturday July 14, 2012 05:50:18 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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Khurshid's comments on Rahul are BJP fodder

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid's remarks Tuesday that a lack of ideological direction plagued the Congress and that Rahul Gandhi was performing only a cameo role triggered 

The Congress' 2009 victory fostered the belief in the party of a similar success five years later followed by Rahul Gandhi's coronation as prime minister. Now, there is a shadow over both the expectations.

As much was clear from the disappointment voiced by Law Minister Salman Khurshid - although he subsequently wanted the media to see it in a positive light - about the heir apparent's failure to rise above playing of "cameo roles".

These, according to the minister, included the young prince's efforts to democratise the party. For others, his practice of occasionally spending a night in a Dalit home falls in this category. Since these forays were generally seen as a campaign tactic, the cynics could regard them as exercises in slumming which did not indicate an overpowering desire to experience the lives of the underprivileged.

But what was odd about the minister's ruminations, which haven't gone down well in a party whose feudal traditions preclude even mild criticism of the lords and ladies of the zamindari-style household, was his observation that Rahul was "undoubtedly and unquestionably the No.2 leader in the party". Yet, considering that he has only been playing "cameo roles", how has he acquired the high status?

The answer, of course, is known. It is his lineage which has enabled him to parachute down from the top to be No.2 with the possibility of becoming the No.1 in the government and perhaps at a later date in the party as well. But it is this biased succession process at odds with Rahul's efforts to democratise the party which partly explains the Congress's present "directionless" condition, to quote the minister.

It goes without saying that if the top positions in a party are not acquired on the basis of a person's political ideas, organizational skills and popular appeal, the outfit can appear to be lost. In Rahul's case, there is little doubt about the veracity of the third factor, judging from the crowds which flock to his meetings, unnerving his opponents, as was evident from Mayawati's acerbic comments about him during the UP election campaign.

But it is also undeniable that the multitudes which he attracts are drawn more by the still prevalent charms of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty than Rahul himself. He is, of course, seen as a representative, but for the crowd he is only the means through which the masses conceptualise a bond with the dynasty's stirring historical record. But the emotional linkage does not seem to extend to Rahul himself if only because he does not offer an uplifting vision. Instead, he banks on platitudes. This is the reason why the attendance at his meetings does not translate into votes for the Congress.

Throughout the party's century-old history, its vision has been its USP. The Congress was seen as the party capable of guiding India from its colonial past to a future where its multi-cultural ethos will find full fruition under a governance which reflected the constitutional imperatives of the rule of law. As such, it was against the encouragement of caste divisions and the branding of minorities as aliens. When the people flock to Rahul's meetings, it is this image of the Congress which they have in mind.

Unfortunately, this perception is not true of the party today. Moreover, when Khurshid says that the party needs "an ideology to be given by our next generation leader, Rahul Gandhi", he is exposing the reason why the Congress is faltering. For, what he is acknowledging is that the party does not have an ideology at the moment. Nor is the reason for the vacuum a secret.

As is known, and the reason has already been identified by foreign agencies and columnists at home, the Congress is torn between the pro-market views of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the socialistic outlook of the party president, Sonia Gandhi. Hence, the lack of direction. For Rahul to give an ideology, he has to choose between the two.

There have been signs that he largely agrees with the prime minister. This partiality was apparent when he sided with Manmohan Singh on the nuclear deal although Sonia Gandhi's reluctance was evident when she said that the Leftists had a point in their objections. That was the time when the prime minister nearly gave up the hope of striking the deal, for he had said that the world would not come to an end if it was not signed. The other occasion when Rahul gave expression to pro-reform views was when he extended support for foreign investment in the retail sector.

But such indications have been few and far between. In any event, he has never given a coherent account of his economic thinking. Unless he is more forthright, he will remain a guest artiste playing cameo roles.


Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at




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