After 12 years of indecision, hesitation, mistrust and slack, is fate giving Congress heir and vice-president Rahul Gandhi another big fat chance on the political stage? No one can excuse Rahul Gandhi for throwing away the biggest opportunity in his political life in 2004, when the Congress Party crashed in with a stunning victory, to rule for 10 years. Rahul was seen as the new, white hope, as a whole new generation of young people looked forward to a newer politics, ideas, aspirations and dreams, instead, the Congress scion squandered his political fortune with sloth, arrogance and shallow sense of entitlement.
But today, bizarrely, Rahul seems to be standing on the verge of imminent new political possibilities, brought on by a bit of hard work, and a whole lot of luck and circumstances. It’s a lesson to be learnt by Rahul, that when you begin to seek, opportunities emerge as similar forces collide and converge. Take Uttar Pradesh. Just when Rahul set out to actively lead the campaign in the run-up to the UP polls, and worked a punishing month-long kisan rally in the state, a major outreach programme with farmers; it could not have come at a better time for Gandhi that the ruling Samajwadi Party in the state was unraveling with super speed.
Rahul and UP chief minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav share a camaraderie that political rivals can dream of – both are tied in by political seniors and leaders who are seen as fusty, corrupt, politically bankrupt, and venal and both have utter contempt for them. While they don’t hide their disgust for old style politics, neither are they energised or motivated to take the cabal on; however, the last few months have seen a renewed vigor, support and display of appreciation for each other. So, what are the opportunities for Rahul today in the crucial state of UP, where the Congress has been banished for over 27 years?
There are three significant political scenarios emerging in front of Rahul, and it would depend on his political understanding and sharpness to make the right choice: one, senior Congress leaders are dreaming of an electoral alliance with either the SP or Mayawati’s BSP, either covert or overt, which would make their job to target 50-60 seats in the coming state election, an easy ride. But going by exclusive reports from the ground, some party MLAs (the Congress has 29 presently) and workers believe they would not like to be subsumed by the two big parties of SP and BSP in the state.
According to MLAs who were called to meet Rahul in Delhi to speak their minds, many among them felt that it would be better if the Congress tied up with smaller parties like the Apna Dal, Krishna Patel faction; Mohammed Ayub’s Peace Party, apart from Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, and several other parties that represent influential MBC castes such as Lonias, Nonias, Chauhan, dhobi et al. The Congress has already pledged reservations for MBCs within the quota of OBCs, the latter has dominated the quota pie.
The third factor is Congress’ hired electoral strategist Prashant Kishor, who has to come up with a plan that goes beyond easy alliance-making with dominant parties, which would inevitably swallow the Congress. Also, Kishor’s ground work so far has enthused party workers and emboldened them to participate in organizational work in the last few months, with district and block meetings, membership drives and co-ordinated party interactions. Many party workers believe it’s important that the party goes ahead alone, with smaller castes and alliances. It’s a call that Rahul has to take.
|Some party MLAs and workers believe they would not like to be subsumed by SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh. Photo credit: PTI|
Rahul’s visit to Tamil Nadu to meet an ailing chief minister Jayalalitha, is also seen as a message to Jaya, if and when she recovers, or to a new leader that the party may appoint, that the Congress is open for business. Even rival party in the state, DMK has made its succession plan public with the anointment of MK Stalin as the 92-year-old party patriarch M Karunanidhi’s heir. While it’s well-known the Gandhi scion prefers AIADMK to DMK, the latter’s proximity to Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, which was responsible for Rahul’s father’s assassination has no appeal for Gandhi; the fact that both AIADMK and DMK is poised for a new leadership could not have come at a better time for Rahul to make a choice, to start all over again.
In the south, Kerala has a friendly Left government to rely at the Centre; in Andhra and Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan Reddy have to be wooed considerably if Rahul wants to make a go for them. In Karnataka, the Congress typically falls between two stools, where it cannot look beyond the two dominant castes, Lingayats and Vokkaligas, even as its chief minister Siddaramiah, plays dangerously with soft Hindutva, apart from allegations of corruption.
In the big states of Madhya Pradesh, the leadership issue has to be settled between Jyotiraditya Scindia and old hand Kamal Nath; in Gujarat, Madhavsinh Solanki and Shankersinh Vaghela are on the cusp of a crucial election in 2017, after the BJP has ruled it for four terms; Maharashtra will have a new coalition leader in the new generation Pawars, Ajit and Supriya; Punjab will continue with Captain Amarinder Singh, who Rahul once wished to replace but was forced to reinstate; Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa will have to have to have new leaders and direction; it could not be a better time for Rahul’s second coming. The question is, will he seize the opportunity or squander it once again?