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Can Rahul reform his party - and system?

Saturday April 06, 2013 01:20:17 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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The recent reaffirmation by the Congress of its governing model of dual centres of power, notwithstanding party general secretary Digvijaya Singh's caveat, was further substantiated by Manmohan Singh's and Rahul Gandhi's addresses to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

While the prime minister reiterated the government's commitment to reforms, the Congress vice president outlined his vision for the country's progress. In doing so, Rahul can be said to have given glimpses of his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru's philosophical mindset.

It was evident that Rahul is much more of a thinker than either his grandmother, Indira, who was a ruthless practitioner of realpolitik, or his father, Rajiv, who didn't have the time to develop his vision, or his mother, Sonia, who has been preoccupied with the nuts and bolts of politics instead of formulating a broad strategy.

It is Rahul's interest in theorizing about the system rather than being involved in the nitty-gritty of administration which explains why he refused to accept a ministerial post, although Manmohan Singh had said he would have been happy to have him in the cabinet.

And, now, the same unwillingness is clearly the reason why Rahul has not only been shying away from the speculation about becoming prime minister, but has even started mocking the idea by emphasizing its irrelevance for him.

Instead, he wants to delineate his outlook for this "beehive" of a country, different in his view from the concept of a lumbering elephant, which is usually projected in contrast to the energetic Chinese dragon. For Rahul, the beehive comprises a billion-plus people who are throbbing with energy. It is this energy which he wants the industrial magnates to tap.

Inclusiveness is obviously the central feature of this vision. But, in case the CII mistakes this assertion as a socialistic plea for the empowerment of the downtrodden at the expense of the rest, Rahul clarified that he wants to take along everyone - the struggling poor, the aspiring middle class and the thriving business community which, he said, provided the "cutting edge" of advancement. This certificate to the mercantile class marks a sharp departure from the Congress's earlier patrician disdain for the grasping businessman.

It is clear that Rahul's viewpoint is different from Sonia's, whose emphasis has been on a paternalistic allocation of doles and jobs to targeted groups selected through caste-based reservations. Hence her insistence on reviving the idea of including castes in the census data after a gap of eight decades.

In the last few months, however, Rahul appears to have influenced his mother to shed some of her left-leaning predilections and speak of the "aspirational" middle class. Considering that he represents the future, it can be assumed that he will take the Congress along a path which defies a neat left-right classification.

In a way, it is fairly revolutionary since Rahul intends to overhaul the entire system by taking the power away from MPs and MLAs and investing it in the village pradhans or heads of the local panchayats. Earlier, too, he had spoken of his wish to do away with the coteries or select groups of people in the parties, including the Congress, which take all the decisions.

While the idea is laudable - it is really an iteration of the process of decentralization which has long been talked about - Rahul gave no indication as to how he was going to implement it and whether he would begin by breaking up the 'high command' structure comprising his mother and himself.

In the absence of specifics, it isn't surprising that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused him of being "confused". It is possible, of course, that he hasn't yet given his ideas a concrete shape. But, if his objective is really to shake up the organizational structure, then it is obvious that, first, he will not take up the onerous job of being prime minister in the foreseeable future. And, secondly, that his primary focus may not be on the forthcoming general election at all. After all, a leader engaged in the process of reinventing his party will not be able to concentrate on the dos and don'ts of a major contest.

It is probably this scenario which made Manmohan Singh hint at his continuance as prime minister if the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) wins a third term in office. What this also means is that he will have freer run in pushing for reforms unlike the earlier period when Sonia's focus on the leftist prescriptions of the National Advisory Council led by her impeded the reforms process.

The fallout cannot but be beneficial for the UPA since a buoyant economy will boost its political prospects. At the same time, if Rahul can seriously introduce an element of democratic functioning in the Congress, then the party can hope to return to its glory days when its corridors of power in the centre and in the states were full of towering personalities.


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






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