By Saurabh Gandhi
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. However, the same can’t be said about Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the Indian National Congress (INC). After leading his party to its biggest electoral setback ever, Gandhi refused to head the small contingent of MPs (44 to be precise) in the Lok Sabha. The reason cited for his reluctance was the same that had been given when he declined Manmohan Singh’s invitation to join the previous UPA government – that he wants to strengthen the party organization. We all witnessed the strength of the INC organization in the recently concluded elections.
But things seem to be changing. On 6th August, 2014, Rahul was seen pulling up the sleeves of his kurta in his trademark style and joining the party MPs in the well of the lower House of Parliament , shouting slogans like, “We Want Justice.” This was in protest against the Speaker not allowing a discussion on the rise of communal riots in the country ever since the BJP had come to power. This was not it. While coming out of Parliament, an otherwise reticent Rahul gave a sound bite to the waiting journalists. He said, “We are not being allowed to speak in Parliament. We are asking for discussion… We are raising a point, we are asking for discussion… The Speaker, I mean…It is completely one-sided, partiality. That’s what we are raising… There is a mentality in the government that discussion is not acceptable. Everybody feels it, their party feels it, we feel it, everybody feels it. There is a mood in Parliament that only one man’s voice counts for anything in this country,”.
With this remark, Rahul was looking at hitting two targets with one arrow. On the one hand, he targeted the Speaker for not giving the INC MPs adequate time to raise crucial issues like communal riots in UP. On the other hand, he took on Prime Minister Modi by linking the Speaker’s alleged partial behavior with his autocratic nature. While Rahul has always targeted the ‘One-Man-Army’ style politics of the BJP, what is interesting is that this time he has chosen to take the battle to the Speaker. He has not shied away from directly attacking her in spite of knowing that she is in a constitutional post and the BJP would be quick to criticize him for his bravado, which they did almost immediately. This shows that he is willing to take the BJP head on this time, unlike the past when he refrained from attacking anyone personally (except perhaps Modi, which he did after great prodding from his party). He always talked about principles, system, empowerment and everything else in the vacuum. Rahul has showed his aggression before also but most of that was during elections and as soon as the elections were over, he was back to being his silent self. However, if media reports are to be believed, this time he seems to be in this for the long haul and a little context might help in understanding the reasons behind his new found aggression.
The stock of the Gandhis in the INC and the country at large is at an all time low. The Gandhis were important to the party for two main reasons, one being that they were great vote catchers in the past and the second being that they were the only glue that could hold the party together. The results of these elections rendered the first reason moot and Rahul’s reluctance to take the old guard in the party along has made several party leaders question his leadership. Add to this the increasing clamor for his charismatic sibling Priyanka to join the INC and you can very well understand that it has become more important than ever for Rahul to prove his leadership skills, if any. In fact, there were reports that Sonia Gandhi may hand over the reins of the party to the two siblings after the Assembly elections at the end of this year. While there is no rivalry between the two siblings, what this will do is that there will be a big question mark over Rahul’s capability to lead the party single-handedly.
So, even if Priyanka were to join the INC in an active role in the future, it would be imperative for Rahul to establish his supremacy in the party first. This is because the party has already invested a lot in Rahul and any indication that Priyanka might be the supreme leader in the future might hamper public perception because of allegations against her husband. This coupled with former Congressman Natwar Singh’s revelation that it was Rahul who had stopped Sonia from becoming the PM in 2004 has forced Rahul to come out of his dream world and express himself and lead his party from the front. Whatever be the reasons for his new found aggression, what it will do is reveal all that Rahul has up his sleeve (pun intended).
A commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, Gandhi is a politics enthusiast. He has been an intern at Youth-Ki-Awaaz and has a keen interest in current affairs. Innovation in India’s education system and gender equality are issues which are very close to his heart. When not following news, he is either reading or crossing movies off his “To see list”. A self confessed social media addict, Gandhi can be reached on Twitter @saurabhgandhi92. Call him mad and he will love you for the rest of your life.