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What does Rahul's return mean for the Congress?

By Kavita Chowdhury
Last updated on: April 17, 2015 13:07 IST
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Congress leaders are worried as to when Rahul Gandhi will get down to undertaking the long overdue AICC

Rahul Gandhi returned to Delhi from his 'introspection leave' on Wednesday in the midst of an internal debate within the Congress. Photograph: Reuters

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s return after a 56-day long sabbatical finally brought to an end the suspense that shrouded the Gandhi scion’s departure in the midst of a crucial Parliament session. Although the Congress remains tight-lipped about the destination of Gandhi’s “introspection leave”, party leaders in a ‘wait and watch’ mode are keen to see how Gandhi, tipped to take over the reins of the party, gets back into action and the decisions he takes.  

Gandhi lands in the midst of an internal debate within the Congress with several seniors questioning his leadership qualities and preferring Sonia Gandhi to continue as party president.

In the past 56 days one might say, as an experienced AICC general secretary said, “The party has got back its drive; and has shaken off its despair that had beset it after a string of electoral defeats. The Bharatiya Janata Party government handed the Congress the “anti-farmer” land bill on a platter and the Congress grabbed the opportunity. The person who led the Congress agitation both within and outside Parliament was Sonia.”

That Sonia has wider acceptability within the party is unquestionable, (as seen in the latest outbursts from the likes of Sheila Dikshit and Amarinder Singh) but she managed to successfully galvanise the dispirited party workers. Her visits to the farmers and rural areas in neighbouring states affected by unseasonal rains enthused rank and file of the party. Rahul was conspicuous by his absence.  

Communications chief Randeep Surjewala “welcomed” Rahul back and officially stated that the party would be strengthened with his “resolute leadership.” Reposing confidence in the “joint leadership” of Sonia and Rahul, Surjewala said the Congress would be championing the cause of farmers and farm distress at the ‘Kisan and Khet Mazdoor rally’ on Sunday.

Gandhi is slated to be re-launched as the Congress’ face for the land bill agitation and will also address the rally at Ramlila. The party has undertaken unprecedented preparations for the rally which will see farmers attending from across the country. Gandhi will be attending the meeting of the special committee on Friday which is supervising the preparations for the rally and interacting with farmer organisations as well.  

It now remains to be seen whether Gandhi will be at the forefront also of the Congress’ agitation against the land bill within the Parliament. The Narendra Modi led National Democratic Alliance government will have to table the land bill afresh and get it passed in this second half of the Budget session at any cost. Gandhi was wholly absent when the lLand bill was taken up in the Lok Sabha.

Most importantly, Gandhi’s return it is being indicated would set the ball rolling for the generational change within the party. Although Gandhi was initially set to be anointed at an AICC session in April, it had to be cancelled indefinitely due to Gandhi’s absence. In all likelihood, once the party’s internal elections are completed in September, will any formal transition of guard take place.   

Ever since he was appointed vice president in January 2013 and started taking day to day decisions regarding party matters, Gandhi’s style of functioning has riled many within the old guard -- leaders like Janardan Dwivedi, Ahmed Patel, Sheila Dikshit. Dikshit, for instance, is upset at the manner in which she has been completely upstaged by her bete noire Ajay Maken and been completely sidelined. Similar is the case with former Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

Congress leaders are worried as to when Rahul Gandhi will get down to undertaking the long overdue All India Congress Committee reshuffle as expectedly many of the old guard will be rendered redundant and replaced with younger faces. For a party that is desperate to get back into the fight and stem its losing streak, such a transition only makes the comeback more challenging.    

Rahul Gandhi’s sudden departure gave the ruling BJP another opportunity to embarrass the Congress. Congress leaders and spokespersons have been going blue in the face trying to defend the Congress vice president’s sudden and extended leave.

All eyes will be on Rahul Gandhi as he gets back into action with everyone waiting to see if he indeed in the words of the Congress spokesperson “the mature political leader of country’s oldest party. He has thought about invigoration. In the days to come, he will interact with partymen … to bring back its inherent strength.”


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Kavita Chowdhury
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