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Do Congressmen want Rahul to make space for Priyanka?

July 16, 2012 16:00 IST

Having seen the spectacular failure of Rahul Gandhi in the UP assembly election, is that 'what' Salman Khurshid is suggesting is Priyanka Gandhi? Like habitual gamblers, Congressmen are reluctant to let go of the apron strings of the family and, therefore, keen to try their last dice in the photogenic Priyanka, who seems promising only because she remains largely untested, says Virendra Kapoor.

So, now we have confirmation that Congressmen are not dumb. They know what ails them, their party, the government, leadership, policies, et al. But because they find percentage in playing dumb and mute foot soldiers of the Gandhi-Nehru family, they keep their prognosis of all that afflicts the once mighty Congress of Gandhi, the original one, and Nehru, to themselves. Programmed to keep their own counsel, they try and make the best of the situation regardless of what might happen to the country and/or to the party. Their constant concern being instant gratification.

Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised when Salman Khurshid gave vent to the feelings of every thinking Congressman when he lamented that the Congress's heir apparent was still reluctant to lead from the front. That was why the Congress was 'directionless' and lacked ideological moorings.

Well, at 42 the Congress's Chosen One wasn't getting any younger, especially in a country which has the median age of about 35. Actually, the Congress's Number Two is seven years too old to get entry into the Youth Congress.  

In a party which privileges silence and subservience, Khurshid's speaking up was indeed a brave act. Though what he said was old hat, countless Congressmen have privately said that and more ad nauseam, Khurshid's public comments became a noteworthy act because he was thus putting his job as law and justice minister on the line.

Defying the Congress culture of silence can result in instant political death, especially for 'akhbari' leaders like Khurshid who does not have a constituency to call his own anywhere in the country.

The Niagara of comment that followed the surprise criticism of the Gandhi scion by Khurshid seemed to have missed a significant point. How come nobody noticed that when the law minister in the United Progressive Alliance government bemoaned the lack of direction and ideological clarity he, by implication, failed both the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. After all, Rahul Gandhi is still the heir presumptive while his mother Sonia Gandhi is in command.

Or is it that Khurshid has already concluded -- quite rightly in our view -- that neither Sonia nor, for that matter, Singh can provide meaningful leadership and, therefore, the only hope he and other Congressmen have is Rahul Gandhi? But, frankly, Rahul Gandhi too has proved to be a non-starter. Even Khurshid had no doubt about it.

Read what he said: "…Until now we have only seen cameos of his thought and ideas like democratising elections to the Youth Congress. But he has not weaved all of this into a grand announcement. This is a period of waiting…"

If the truth be told, Khurshid and other Congressmen can keep on waiting till the cows come home, but Rahulji will not be able to provide the Big Idea they are all waiting for to end their slow but certain decline away from the loaves and fishes of ministerial power and patronage.

That is why what Khurshid said next assumes great significance. It reads: "We need a new ideology to meet the next generation challenges. Reforms in the 1990s were the emergence of a new ideology. But today we need a new ideology to be given by our next generation leader Rahul Gandhi to go forward. We have to be very clear what we want to go ahead with in the next elections…"

If we were nit-picking we would point out to Khurshid that his own prime minister is on record saying repeatedly that the process of reforms which began in the 1990s still remains unfinished. Indeed, the quick-fire response of the leading economic policy wonks of the UPA to any question about the crippling slowdown is the failure to implement the crucial reforms, including the opening up of the economy to multi-brand retail, FDI in insurance and aviation sectors, modernising the ancient labour laws, etc. So, what new reforms does Khurshid expect the always-reticent and withdrawing Rahul Gandhi to come up with which will release the 'animal spirits' of the economy?

Could it be that the real message he is keen to convey lies in the last sentence wherein he talks of 'what we want to go ahead with in the next elections'? Having seen the spectacular failure of Rahul Gandhi in the UP assembly election, is that 'what' Khurshid is suggesting is Priyanka Gandhi? Like habitual gamblers, Congressmen are reluctant to let go of the apron strings of the family and, therefore, keen to try their last dice in the photogenic Priyanka, who seems promising only because she remains largely untested.

Though it is important to recall that she had perched her tent for weeks in the family strongholds of Amethi and Rai Bareli in the recent UP assembly election and failed to succeed where her brother and mother had failed miserably. So much then for the unmet Congress wish for Priyanka replacing Rahul as the party's chief campaigner.

Meanwhile, Khurshid's reference to the 'cameo' role Rahul Gandhi has played so far inevitably led many to see parallels in Bollywood films. The Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, never the one to miss the kernel in the all-pervasive confusion, saw in Khurshid's remarks a growing disenchantment with the Congress Number Two. For, instead of playing the main hero's role, Gandhi seemed content to ape Bollywood's most famous item girl, Malaika Arora Khan. Like her, he would intervene in the debate only to withdraw from the public eye for months.

For instance, he made that intervention in the debate over the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha and vanished from the scene. The Kalavati script the young Gandhi scion read out to thundering cheers from the Congress members, who, incidentally, still behave as if they are four-anna spectators in a single-screen hall when the world has graduated to multiplexes, was hailed by Khurshid and others of his ilk as a 'game-changer' because not only did their young leader want a Lokpal but he wanted to accord it constitutional status.

We all know the fate of poor Kalavati who is hard put to keep the wolf away from the door. As for the proposed Lokpal, what to talk of giving him a constitutional status even the bare-boned version still eludes the government. But, then, Malaika Arora's item numbers have no bearing on the progress in the story-line of a film. Likewise, it would seem cameo roles of Rahul Gandhi both inside and outside Parliament have had little impact on the quality and direction of the polity.

Like an item girl in a Bollywood film, he sprouts up suddenly, says his set- piece but only to vanish for long months in the anonymity of a foreign or a domestic locale to the chagrin of a vast majority of Congressmen who crave fervently for him to provide leadership.

But, then, if Malaika Arora cannot expect to play the lead in films, it will be futile to expect her male counterpart in Indian politics to play a stellar role. Time Congressmen accepted the obvious.

Virendra Kapoor