Rahul Gandhi: PM in waiting?

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Even before his foray into the rocky terrain of Indian politics, Rahul Gandhi had been touted as a future Prime Minister of the nation.  Speculations have long preceded his initiation. Seven years into his career, his second name still outweighs his political acumen. Here’s a look at the political vocation of Rahul Gandhi through the eyes of a cynic.

POLITICAL CAREER

His political initiation came through the constituency of Amethi (U.P.) in 2004. Representing the Congress, he managed a landslide victory by defeating his opponent by over 1, 00,000 votes. His win wasn’t a surprise as Amethi was formerly held by the Gandhi family. The constituency was passed from Sanjay to Rajiv to Sonia Gandhi before getting to Rahul. Sonia Gandhi shifted to neighbouring Rai Bareilly and left Amethi for her son. As was clear by the elections, the loyalties of the Amethi villagers lay strongly with the Gandhi clan. An easy victory guaranteed Rahul’s promotion to a more prominent position within the Congress.

He also heads the IYC (Indian Youth Congress) and is the chairperson of the NSUI (National Students Union of India). Many would suggest that this reinvigorated the hopes of the youth Congress workers.

Rahul Gandhi is also the General Secretary of the Congress party. These positions were, however, conferred upon him in a cabinet reshuffle in 2007. Some would cite this as an instance of nepotism within politics.

He was a part of the high-profile election campaign undertaken by the Congress in U.P. (2007). The Congress, however, failed miserably by its own standards and gave Mayawati one of her biggest wins.

Mr. Gandhi went on to retain Amethi in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

So, effectively, his achievements include winning and retaining a family constituency while accepting the role of the General Secretary.

POLITICAL STRATEGY

“Had his initiative not been there, this draft bill would not have come in a short span of time,” – Jairam Ramesh

The Rural Development Minister spoke these words while addressing the media over the passing of the new Land Acquisition bill. He acknowledged Rahul Gandhi’s efforts and gave him credit for his invaluable inputs. The self sacrificial Gandhi undertook a “padyatra” and even got arrested while protesting alongside agitated farmers. His ascetic visits to the villages of U.P. were instrumental in understanding the condition of the farmers and were, in turn, important in the framing of the bill.

“Rahul Gandhi forces rethink on the Rs.32 poverty line”

This was the headline of an article in a reputed news channel.  Soon after the infamous Rs. 32 statement by the Planning Commission, Rahul Gandhi demanded an explanation. Seemingly, the likes of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia were forced to modify their stance regarding the issue.

These are just two instances where Rahul Gandhi has stepped in to save the day. There seem to be many more coming. The question that needs to be asked is this – is the persistent intervention of Rahul Gandhi a part of an elaborate strategy to prop him up as the next Prime Ministerial candidate in opposition to a weakened Manmohan Singh?

The answer is, yes and no.  While there seems to be a continued effort to advertise brand Gandhi, he still has a long way to go before he becomes Prime Minister. It’s hard to believe that the Congress knew close to nothing about the poor conditions of the farmers before Mr. Gandhi came in. it seems incredible that the UPA would risk bad publicity with the poverty line statement in such an atmosphere.

It is, therefore, quite acceptable to think that future policy failures and political miscommunications will be sorted out by the omniscient presence of The Chosen One.

THE ALLEGATIONS

Congress Gen. Secretary, Mr. Digvijay Singh, had apparently made a statement backing the idea of Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, however, claims an interesting legal angle, which forbids Rahul Gandhi from acquiring the position. The legal issue was “arising from Italian law, which made him a citizen upon birth. He has never renounced this inherited citizenship and has travelled on Italian passport all over Europe on an alias.”

Dr. Swamy doesn’t stop there. He goes on to allege that Rahul Gandhi has faked his educational qualifications with reference to Harvard. He says that Mr. Gandhi got admission into Harvard on a donor’s quota and was asked to leave when he couldn’t cope up with the academic pressure. Dr. Swamy’s other allegations include topics like – Rahul Gandhi’s drug abuse while at Harvard, his citizenship issues, his being under the scanner of the FBI, his special entry into St. Stephen’s College etc.

POPULAR PERCEPTION

Rahul Gandhi has been a very popular figure in India. He was seen as the young leader who would lead India to a better political future. This perception seems to be weakening on a daily basis; majorly because of Anna Hazare. After his fast against corruption, the youth of the country have seemingly found an able replacement for Rahul Gandhi. Brand Anna has risen and is dealing fatal blows to Rahul Gandhi’s image.

Mr. Gandhi has gotten in his own way on a few occasions. The most recent of his Freudian slips include his statement after the Mumbai terror attacks earlier this year. He said, “We will stop 99 per cent of terror attacks but one per cent of attacks might get through”. He had earlier drawn a comparison between the RSS and SIMI.

The portrayal of Rahul Gandhi as Mr. Clean may come back to haunt the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi, once Mr. Clean, went down after the Bofors scandal. With his reported issues with the FBI, Rahul Gandhi needs to tread cautiously. He now needs to re-invent himself and find a way to connect with the youth again.

THE FUTURE

Albeit the recent gaffes, Rahul Gandhi seems to be making an impact. He has finally started voicing his opinion about issues rather than staying on the fringes. He, presently, does not possess the credentials to become the Prime Minister of India. It would be unwise for the Congress to expect him to deliver before he is ready. He may however, try to handle an important portfolio and work his way through the ranks. I personally feel that Rahul Gandhi the person is being overshadowed by Rahul Gandhi the brand.

Anirudh Madhavan

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