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What are you going to do next, Rahul?

Last updated on: January 22, 2013 08:21 IST

What are you going to do next, Rahul?

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Renu Mittal

Having promised major reforms, Rahul Gandhi may live on the glory of his speech for some time to come but sooner than later he would need to show that he means business. Renu Mittal examines

Days after Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's electrifying speech, which stunned admirers and detractors alike, the main question being asked is, what next?

Having taken the expectations sky high with his words, promises and a pledge to put systems right both in terms of governance as well as the leviathan Congress party, political leaders are unsure of how much he will be able to deliver and how it will impact his future politics if he is unable to deliver what he has promised.

During the centenary All India Congress Committee session in Mumbai soon after having won a huge mandate from the people of India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, newly-elected prime minister and Congress president Rajiv Gandhi had delivered a stirring speech that spoke of the need to cleanse the political system and get rid of the power brokers whom he said were strangling the system.

Rajiv was young, he was well meaning and as an idealist he meant every word he said. He wanted to change, but over the next five years of his rule he not only frittered away the goodwill that had given him a historic mandate but also compromised with and accommodated the same power brokers whom he had fought so hard against.

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What are you going to do next, Rahul?

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The big difference this time around is that Rahul is speaking after having been active in the Congress for the last eight years. He has travelled around, visited states and numerous universities, slept in Dalit homes, brought democracy back in the youth Congress and the National Students Union of India and registered the deep shock and dismay of badly losing an election he had spearheaded and put his heart and soul into.

He gave tickets to outsiders and after the defeat they upped and left. He dealt with senior party leaders who said yes to what he wanted but ensured his decisions were overturned and not implemented.

As one leader admitted some years ago, 'We are happy Rahul is dabbling in the youth Congress. It will keep him busy for some time and keep him out of the parent Congress party'.

The leaders continued to praise the good work he was doing with the youth even as they continued running the party and the system.

Rahul came to the Jaipur Chintan Shivir and the AICC meeting having been called an immature leader, as an inarticulate fellow who could not deliver a coherent speech and as a young man who was on hoardings and billboards by virtue of being a Gandhi.

On January 18, when the Shivir started there were no expectations from him as the focus was on Sonia Gandhi and the posters all around Jaipur and the Birla Auditorium (the venue) were focused on her as the Congress president.

But just two days later, by January 20 evening, the entire atmosphere changed.

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What are you going to do next, Rahul?

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Overnight posters of Sonia were replaced by those of Rahul even at the Chintan Shivir. Nationwide celebrations of Rahul being elevated as vice president were on display.

The Congress machinery was in full active gear as thousands of youth Congress workers gathered at 10, Janpath to burst firecrackers and welcome the new leader.

But more than the orchestrated machinery of the Congress party, what changed the mood was the unexpectedly mature and well-articulated thoughts of the young leader.

While this electrified the assembled AICC members and senior party leaders, the nationwide telecast of the speech kept Congressmen and others glued to the TV listening and watching with admiration the transformation of Rahul. The normally-critical media also did an about turn as praise and accolades began pouring in.

The 'century' scored by Rahul, say those close to him, was the result of his own hard work and the lessons he had learnt in the last 8 years of his political life. It made him speak openly and frankly -- a fact which may have made senior leaders squirm but which endeared the middle rung leaders to him.

But the question now is what next?

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What are you going to do next, Rahul?

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One admirer cautioned: 'If Rahul does not bring in much required changes in the AICC, the PCCs and the chief ministers for a start, it would dent him rather badly as he has raised the expectations rather high'.

An AICC member who has been around for the last few decades said that after Rahul's speech every Congressman was willing to stand behind him, but then added that he would need to show he means business as simply words will not do.

He said every Congressman wants change from the existing system and the current style of decisions and if Rahul is able to dent this, he would have the Congress workers eating out of his hands.

Having promised major reforms, Rahul may live on the glory of his speech for some time to come but sooner than later he would need to show that he means business.

Since every leader has a comfort level with his own set of people, Rahul would also bring in a group, which he feels the most comfortable with. 

Already questions have begun on who will go and who will remain.

But what is clear is that Rahul's stamp will be visible on the coming reshuffle as the party prepares to work with the young leader who will lead the charge both for the coming assembly and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

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