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Rahul Gandhi's hands full of challenges as party chief, needs new formulas

By Prashant Sood

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS): Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's long-delayed elevation as party chief is eventually taking place at a time when Congress faces an "existential crisis", as a party leader put it, and has huge electoral challenges in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Gandhi, 47, will be the sixth member of Nehru-Gandhi family to take the top position of the 132-year old party.

The change at the top is coming on the eve of assembly polls in Gujarat and the outcome there would be interpreted in terms of Rahul Gandhi's ability as a campaigner and vote getter.

But the next round of assembly polls in 2018 -- first in Karnataka and later in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- will be absolutely crucial for Rahul Gandhi for building the momentum to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha polls. The state elections, with Bharatiya Janata Party as the key rival, will also be first major polls directly under Rahul Gandhi's charge as party chief. Assembly polls will also be held early next year in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.

The challenges for Rahul Gandhi include fostering a new energy and enthusiasm in the Congress and evolving a new strategy to galvanise the party after a string of electoral losses since the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle. The Congress has to work hard at the grassroots to take on the relentless election machine of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party chief Amit Shah.

Gandhi has to take a call on forging a larger opposition alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls under a "collective leadership" or projecting himself as the alternative against Modi with support of different parties. He was the face of Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Gandhi has been perceived as a reluctant politician due to some of his longish trips abroad, the delay in stepping up to the role of party chief, his not taking up a ministerial responsibility in two UPA governments and not properly following through some of the issues he raised.

Of late, he has been able to counter the perception with his sharp and aggressive attacks on Modi and the BJP. A trip to the United States where he had had interactions with think tanks appeared to have done a sea change to the image about him.

In Gujarat, where success will be a big morale-booster for the Congress, Gandhi has sought to create a broad social coalition and has forced Modi to react.

Congress' only major success since its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has been Punjab while the BJP, in comparison, has tremendously expanded its footprint by winning states it had never done in the past. The BJP is making efforts to expand its base in states it has been weak including West Bengal, Kerala, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

Another major challenge for Rahul Gandhi is to revive Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest contingent of 80 MPs to parliament. Gandhi has twice led the party's campaign in the assembly polls but had come a cropper.

The results of the recent local body polls in Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Lok Sabha constituencies of Rahul Gandhi and his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, have not been flattering for his image.

Congress has shrunk electorally, being now the fourth player in states such as Bihar, third in states such as West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu as also Delhi. In the polls held to various assemblies since 2014, it has largely finished third or fourth. Sections, which were strongly with the party including Dalits, have drifted away.

Rahul Gandhi had been projected as a young leader who understands the language and idiom of the youth but Modi has been more successful in weaning away the section that has large electoral presence. The Congress also has to devise ways to woo the large middle class.

Gandhi, who is stepping into shoes of his mother Sonia Gandhi who helmed Congress for 19 years including 10 as the chief of the party heading the ruling coalition at the Centre, will need to be dexterous in his dealings with allies as also other opposition parties such as the CPI-M.

The crumbling of the ruling alliance in Bihar has been a setback for the party.

Senior leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Prasad have a comfort level with Sonia Gandhi and it remains to be seen how Rahul Gandhi fits into the role.

Within the party, Gandhi has to take several decisions including whether to project chief ministerial candidates in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan and who they will be.

Bringing about unity in faction-ridden state units and making the balance between the "old guard" and the younger aspirants will be other challenges.

Congress had to project nonagenarian Virbhadra Singh as chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh in the absence of a younger acceptable option.

Congress is now ruling only five states and a union territory and if it loses Gujarat and Karanataka next year, its chances of staging a comeback in 2019 will be further squeezed.

Though Gandhi's experiments to democratise the party's youth organisations have not entirely succeeded, he has had some political successes, including forcing the Modi government to go back on its proposed changes in the land acquisition Act.

The concerted opposition attack on the "flawed" implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) as also perception of unease among traders in poll-bound Gujarat has apparently forced the government to extend several concessions.

But the Congress or other opposition parties could not reap political dividends on demonetisation though it caused a lot inconvenience to people.

Though Gandhi had promised to "involve people in ways you cannot even imagine now" after the party lost in Delhi in 2013 assembly polls, the party fared far worse in the next polls.

Gandhi, who is into his third term as Lok Sabha MP, was made party vice-president in 2013 as a stepping stone to his eventual elevation.


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Comment on this article

  • Alwyn Crasta, Mangaluru/Bengaluru

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Indian National Congress needs to have inner-party democracy, to give chance to budding, intelligent young-generation political leaders to lead the party, if it has to repel the criticism that it is a purely dynastic party.

    Hope INC takes the cue and reinvents itself, to be able to stay relevant in the fast-changing/challenging scenario.

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • Desi Admi, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    A Tweet received from a friend about Sashi Taroor: sharing

    Sashi Taroor: Why can''t I be the President of Congress Party? I am educated, have money, have diplomatic talents, administrative skills, good oratory skills and am honest and not being acquitted of any scam or murder yet
    RaGa: Mere pass Maa hai!

    DisAgree [1] Agree [5] Reply Report Abuse

  • KS Mayya, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    The Prince rises from the shadow of his Mama:
    Going by the current performance of Congress, Siddu should be made the party president and not Rahul Gandhi. Feel sorry for congress that without the Gandhi brand, this party cannot hold together for a day. I guess with a bachelor in Rahul Gandhi, the perennial hereditary succession might come to rest soon unless Congress desperately convinces a certain Vadhra to take over.

    Age old party has lost confidence in democracy:
    Rahul Gandhi's elevation clearly indicates that there is nothing democratic about how the Congress party works. All sane elements in various states have clearly understood that he is best made for laughter challenges.

    Karnataka the only Jewel in the Crown:
    I am sure, Karnataka will be the only place where Congress can get desperate funds for its coffers....and whence Indira Canteen, and many such publicly funded enterprises for Congress to funnel precious funds from Treasury to Congress coffers.

    Modi and Amit Shah must grinning wide I suppose.

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • Alwyn Crasta, Mangaluru/Bengaluru

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    A very sorry state of affairs is currently prevailing in INC.

    It is as if there is absolutely no capable leader to take charge of INC - the "Grand Old Party of India".

    Instead of strengthening itself with a strong leadership, capable of providing a very strong national level main opposition party, INC is doing a great disservice to the Indian citizenry, by shamelessly hanging on to dynastic rule and abdicating its responsibility to the Indian electorate. Hope they realize their suicidal policy, even at this late hour.

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • Flavian, Mangluru/Kuwait

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Still he is an Indian and not a Pakistani.
    Let us keep religion aprt from politics but the present situation (BJP agenda) is crossing all the limits and public is lured on religion grounds. (majority Hindu)

    DisAgree [6] Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • m, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Rahul claims he is a hindu.
    how? his grandfather was a parsi, so rajiv is also parsi and so do rahul.
    If rahul says his grandmother was a hindu, so he is a hindu.(Implying religion coming from maternal.)
    according to that he is a christian as his mother is a christian.
    so how is he a Hindu in the first place?

    DisAgree [2] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • Flavian, Mangaluru/Kuwait

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    He is there to end the Dynasty. (congress party is already going thru slow demise)
    May be Congress will rejevonate with another front very soon.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse


    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    His knowledge is very poor.
    once he said "Indira canteen will be made in the entire state of Bengaluru"

    DisAgree [1] Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse

  • Flavian, Mangaluru/Kuwait

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Apne aapko ko bada National Hero samajtha hai.
    If the countrymen are not happy with Modi sarkar
    We all can undoubtedly declare that Rahul is bekar
    He is simply blessed by few others
    And not standing on his own merits

    DisAgree [5] Agree [13] Reply Report Abuse

  • Ronald D, Udupi

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    They could have elected a dynamic leader outside the family for next few years! Compassion is, now a days he is matured and confronting Modi! People called him by names and tried to project him weak (like a paper tiger of Mysore in opposite sense)! It will not affect him! Those calling him by names will have to eat humble pie within a decade. He is organised and building his party well! End of the day we need a good opposition leader. Kharge is doing a fair job at the moment, Im happy as long as Rahul is going to be a strong opposition leader and if he performs well nothing can sop him from being a ruling leader!

    DisAgree [6] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Flavian, Mangaluru/Kuwait

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Gandhi fly is under the impression that Country will not survive or go ahead without them.
    Don't they find any other profession other than politics ?

    DisAgree [3] Agree [22] Reply Report Abuse

  • Vincent Rodrigues, Bengaluru/Katapadi

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    He will prove because of excellent and capable youth around him

    DisAgree [30] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • JAGDISH, mumbai

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Yes off course Raul Vinci need new formulas to invent a machine like Aloo Dalo sona nikalo......lot more machine will be coming to the market.

    DisAgree [10] Agree [30] Reply Report Abuse

  • L n T, Mumbai

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    His Dynasty Highness sri man Rahul Gandhiji will lead the nation in future in full swing.
    Both He and another Dynasty leader Sriman Jothiraj Scindia charming face of India govern in secular way uplift the democratic spirit with out fake promises where Indians are facing now.

    DisAgree [21] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Heads will roll if Rahul Gandhi wins in Modi's Gujarat ...

    DisAgree [18] Agree [32] Reply Report Abuse

  • hemanth, Bangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Yeah. But don't worry, You can be happy that many heads saved when Cong loss the election

    DisAgree [15] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • dev, mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    wait and watch what will roll

    DisAgree [2] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • David Pais, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    vijay mallya likes chaiwala in london.

    DisAgree [14] Agree [13] Reply Report Abuse

  • Nelly, Karla

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Dynasty rule is fine as long as they try to unite than venom spitting Sakshi,yogi, paper Simha, Nalinakka, Shobha Kaka,gas vij, Amu,Daku, A feku,Addavani and the list goes on for anti-peace rogues filled in clay pot.....

    DisAgree [23] Agree [16] Reply Report Abuse

  • Paul dsouza, Balakunje

    Tue, Dec 5 2017


    DisAgree [22] Agree [13] Reply Report Abuse

  • Juliet N Prabhu, Mangalore

    Mon, Dec 4 2017

    It''s incredible. Despite his horrible track record of losing elections, a laughing stock, and his display of abysmal intelligence he is being elevated to the top post. Why are they making it easy for the BJP?

    DisAgree [17] Agree [27] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Dek Agee Agee Hota Hai Kya ...

    DisAgree [12] Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse

  • readerwriter007, pune

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    you ... come on.. kuch tho sharam karo yaar. How this national party can make such a joker as their party president and projected PM candidate... OMG. Are you serious... why don't / didn't learn lessons from past elections... he is having a track record of loosing 20 + elections...

    DisAgree [1] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sachin Shetty, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    It is selection, not election.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [17] Reply Report Abuse

  • Af,,, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    can you name elected bjp president

    DisAgree [14] Agree [3] Reply Report Abuse

  • Rathan, Mangalore

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Just name two presidents of BJP who r from same family or relatives like
    Pappu and his mummy

    DisAgree [3] Agree [14] Report Abuse

  • readerwriter007, pune

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Wrong example sir... BJP has a very structured selection process and not a family drama which is running for decades at Congress. All the recent leaders from BJP at central cabinet are all grown from the ground level... anybody , who is capable can become any level leader in BJP. Classic example for a democracy. It's wrongly projected now Modi dictates everything. It's the capability of Modi which is respected and followed. So, it's a crazy thought to compare... worst case is seeing such a joker, world class comedian set as the Party president... in spite of so many eminent and senior leaders in Congress... a disaster of the party.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [9] Report Abuse

  • peacelover, India

    Tue, Dec 5 2017

    Readerwriter 007, Pune
    In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the sons of serving BJP chief ministers are MPs. Dushyant Singh, the son of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, is the MP from Dhaulpur, which his mother represented for many years. Vasundhara’s sister Yashodhara Raje is a minister in Madhya Pradesh. Her mother, the late Vijayaraje Scindia, was an MP from Madhya Pradesh and was among the founder members of the BJP. She was also associated with the erstwhile Jan Sangh.
    Similarly, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek is also a Lok Sabha MP.
    Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is also a MP and had been an office bearer in the BCCI.
    Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is the son of the late Gangadharpant Fadnavis, who was a member of the state legislative council. His aunt Shobha Fadnavis was a Maharashtra minister.
    Similarly, senior state BJP leader Eknath Khadse’s daughter-in-law Raksha is a MP.

    The daughters of the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, who was also Maharashtra deputy chief minister, are in politics. His elder daughter Pankaja is a senior minister in Maharashtra, while her sister Pritam has been elected from Beed, her father’s constituency. Poonam Mahajan, Munde’s niece and the daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, is also a MP and head of the BJP’s youth wing.

    Union minister Jayant Sinha is the son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, while UP MLA and BJP state general secretary Pankaj Singh is the son of home minister Rajnath Singh and BJP MP Rajveer Singh is the son of Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [1] Report Abuse

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