After a long wait, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the first family in Indian politics, is set to take over the reins of the Indian National Congress. This was made amply clear when a Congress spokesperson on December 10 confirmed reports that Rahul was going to lead the party’s campaign for the 2014 general elections.
Asked whether he was being considered as the party’s next candidate for the prime ministerial post, the spokesperson skirted the question, saying that the incumbent Dr Manmohan Singh would occupy the coveted chair till 2014.
Rahul’s involvement in the recent election campaign in Gujarat was also a clear sign. By taking on BJP’s formidable Narendra Modi, he gave clear signals that he was ready to lead from the front. Talk of Rahul’s sibling Priyanka taking charge of the Party has also taken a back seat, thanks to the imbroglio surrounding Robert Vadra’s involvement in illegal land acquisition.
During the 2009 general elections to the Maharashtra State Assembly, Rahul’s involvement was limited to that of a Indian Youth Congress chairperson. A handful of his IYC team members made it to the State Assembly, but he refrained from recommending anyone for the state cabinet.
His current foray in national politics is more guarded than it appears publicly. Almost all the meetings of the IYC and their interaction with people was kept away from party’s old guards and media. His efforts to strengthen the youth wing were carried out silently, almost secretly. If we take the case of Maharashtra, Rahul has been at his task hammer and tong, but without attracting even the hint of debate or controversy, even among his party men.
Recently, a four-day state level training programme was held near Mumbai, away from the prying eyes of the media. Even the party leaders were not invited to the programme titled Yuva Drishti 2012.
The venue of the same was changed from a five-star-resort in Madh Island to a resort on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. And insider explained that the venue revision was also part of a careful strategy not to send the wrong message — Rahul, who is often seen sharing meals with the poor and the destitute, must not be seen gracing a luxurious resort, especially for IYC training programme.
Attendance was compulsory for all the Youth Congress committees, from state level to local level. A group of 300 office-bearers were handpicked for intensive training on the history of Congress, the party’s ethos, ways of working, programmes, core strengths and future initiatives.
Most importantly, the youth wing office bearers were imparted lessons on tackling the media and articulating their views in an effective manner without getting sucked into controversy. The programme was managed by Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute (JNLI), New Delhi, of which Rahul is an office bearer.
It’s interesting that a few of the senior leaders from the state who wished to pay a visit to the venue during the programme were asked to stay away.
Rahul’s men taught the young leaders the tricks of the trade — how to work during the general elections to Lok Sabha and State Assembly. The 300 delegates were also briefed that 40 of them would be selected to work at the national level, something that is usually the domain of the cronies of big leaders.
In Mumbai, the delegates were told to work in tandem with the parent body to ensure that the party retains the six Lok Sabha seats. IYC units need to make their contribution to the elections, and the entire process is being closely monitored, delegates were told. They were given the sense that their contribution to the party would play a major in its growth, which in turn would benefit their growth in the party.
The youth wing members were told that the Congress always takes strong action against tainted leaders. The case of former CM Ashok Chavan was offered as a case in point. BJP rebel Yeddyurappa was cited as an example of what not to do. ‘Such things don’t happen in the Congress’, they were told.
The methods applied during the programme make it abundantly clear what Rahul means to the future of the party. He wants to promote every party worker to aspire to make it big at the state and national level. Even though his methods are the object of ridicule from opponents, Rahul’s efforts are unique: no other party is trying to as hard to rejuvenate its youth wing. Such programmes are also part of Rahul’s design to have a dedicated wing on his side straight from the grass roots level to the national level. With this, he looks all set to retire seniors as well as party units that have succeeded only thanks to their lineage. For the party leaders who thought Rahul lacks potential to make it to the top position held previously by his great-grandfather, grandmother and father, it may be time for a rethink.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY