Rahul Gandhi’s birthday greeting to the DMDK supremo signifies that the Congress vice president is expanding his ambit of functioning and graduating from handling just organisational affairs, reports Anita Katyal.
When Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi greeted Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam chief Vijayakanth on his 61st birthday on Sunday, the Nehru-Gandhi scion was not just pursuing the realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The gesture was also meant to send out a clear message to the Congress rank and file that he will no longer confine himself to party organisational matters and will play a more proactive role in interacting with other political parties, a task so far handled by his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi while the follow-up work is undertaken by her political secretary Ahmed Patel.
This is the first time that Rahul Gandhi has taken the initiative in reaching out to prospective allies although he does share a personal relationship with National Conference leader and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Ever since Rahul Gandhi was inducted as party office-bearer, he has persistently maintained that his priority is to strengthen the party organisation by putting in new processes and structures, inducting new members and grooming an army of young leaders across the country.
As Congress general secretary, he focused his attention on rehauling the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India by conducting elections in the two youth wings. He refused to join the government although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly requested him to do so.
He remained focused on party affairs even after he was named Congress vice-president earlier this year. Rahul Gandhi has since convened a series of meetings with party office-bearers and state leaders, has begun the process of reconstituting the Pradesh Congress Committees and has taken personal interest in the functioning of the revamped communications department headed by former Union minister Ajay Maken.
Having made it abundantly clear that he is only interested in organisational matters, Rahul Gandhi’s gesture to DMDK leader Vijaykanth came as a pleasant surprise to his party colleagues who have been urging him to expand his area of activity. Describing it as a politically significant development, a senior Congress leader maintained that this is a clear indication that Rahul Gandhi will gradually take over Sonia Gandhi’s responsibilities.
“This shows that the period of transition is on in the party,” remarked Union Shipping Minister G K Vasan, adding that it is a welcome step.
A senior Congress general secretary pointed out that Rahul Gandhi’s decision to move beyond internal party matters is not totally unexpected as he has been stepping up his activities in the organisation and it is only logical that he should start engaging with other political parties.
As it happens, he is slowly tightening his grip on the party with even senior leaders reporting to him. For instance, the party’s election coordination committee, headed by him, has senior party leaders as its members while the panels on alliances and publicity, again headed by seniors like Defence Minister A K Antony and AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh, respectively, are essentially under Rahul Gandhi.
The process of delegating responsibility to the Congress vice-president has been a gradual affair to ensure there is no upheaval in the party and to carry along the old guard.
While maintaining that Rahul Gandhi will step up his engagement with other political parties in the coming months, Congress insiders said this does not mean that Sonia Gandhi will give up all her responsibilities.
She remains the party’s central figure whose credibility with the party rank and file and the electorate remains undiluted. Sonia Gandhi will be at the forefront when it comes to forging alliances with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo M Karunanidhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav in view of their seniority and the rapport they have already established with her.
The formation of the UPA and the joining of various political outfits including Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party along with the RJD and the DMK was made possible by Sonia Gandhi who had personally reached out to them. Her role is unlikely to change but Rahul Gandhi is expected to interact with younger leaders and new allies in the run-up to next year’s general election.
In fact, Rahul Gandhi appears to have learnt some lessons from his mother. Sonia Gandhi had driven down to Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati’s residence in Delhi with a bouquet on her birthday in the run-up to the 2004 elections when the Congress was desperately wooing her party.
That alliance did not materialise and it is still early to say if the Congress-DMDK partnership will eventually fructify. There are a number of local issues which will have to be sorted out first.
Moreover, the DMDK will also weigh its options and the anti-incumbency against the UPA government will be a factor if it accepts Congress’s hand of friendship. The Congress believes that a tie up with the DMK, DMDK and the PMK will be a formidable combination and can pose a serious challenge to Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu.