Assembly elections to determine
Rahul's prime ministerial ambitions
By Amba Charan Vashishth
When Mr. Rahul Gandhi was elevated as Vice-President of the All-India Congress Committee at Jaipur on January 20, 2013 his mother and Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi visited him at night and warned "power is poison". In his first speech accepting the position, Mr. Rahul said, "Last night… My mother came to my room and she sat with me and she cried... because she understands that power so many people seek is actually a poison.” The only corollary to his elevation, so went the impression, was that he would be the party's prime ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha (LS) elections. Many a times in the past has the incumbent Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh reiterated that he is ready to make room for Mr. Rahul the moment the Party wants. Simultaneously, there has been a chorus of demands within the party that Mr. Rahul should be the prime minister.
When Mrs. Gandhi referred to "power", she was obviously alluding to a situation in which the people vote a person and party to power. It cannot be otherwise. A party never does – and never can – vote itself or its leader into "power". It is the exclusive prerogative of the people and people alone, and not of the party workers, to put an individual or a political organization into power. Therefore, Mrs. Gandhi anticipated that Rahul will get "power" through people's mandate.
Yet, Mr. Rahul's stand remains confusing. About three months back he boldly declared that he is ready to shoulder higher responsibility and said that this will be decided by his mother and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. In January he accepted the post of Vice-President of the Party. But in the first week of March he declared that the post of PM is not vacant and, therefore, his being a candidate does not arise. Two days later, on March 5 he said, "Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question". Further, "I want to give to the middle tier, empower the middle-level leaders". Does it imply that his becoming a prime minister would stand in the way of his realizing this noble objective?
On the other hand, the reaction of Congress Party to Mr. Rahul's observations is all the more queer. While "make Rahul prime minister" pitch remains sonorous the Congress, on the other hand, reacted on March 6 saying, "As and when time will come the party will take an appropriate decision…..he (Rahul) is the most appropriate candidate." It clearly implies that the incumbent prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh may be more "appropriate" but Rahul is "the most". It is, therefore, but natural that the Congress should settle for the "the most appropriate" candidate instead of the more one. In nutshell, "As and when time will come the party will take an appropriate decision" to project "the most appropriate candidate", that is Rahul, in place of Dr. Manmohan Singh. That only means that it is only a matter of months, if not of days, before Dr. Singh is eased out.
The everyday rant by Mr. Rahul Gandhi, his diehard followers and the Congress Party is only making the already confused situation worse confounded. While Mr. Gandhi seems to be trying to create an impression that he is not after office, and, simultaneously, conveying a sense of feeling to the people that he is a leader "reluctant" and shy to shoulder the onerous responsibility. Mr. Rahul Gandhi's past record of leading his party to victory at the hustings is not that much inspiring, given the results of assembly elections in Gujarat, UP, Punjab, Bihar and more recently in Tripura. And then the spectrum of assembly elections is looming large in important States of Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and maybe even in Jharkhand. It does not seem to give Mr. Rahul the courage to take the final plunge. A defeat – even a minor win here and there – is not likely to bolster his image and grit to take on the opposition by the horn in the final battle for the 2014 LS elections in the next 11 months.
Therefore, in all probability, "the appropriate time" of Congress conception will herald only if election results in these States are heartening to inject in Mr. Rahul Gandhi the guts to take a final plunge. By announcing him as party's prime ministerial candidate at the moment Congress cannot afford to stake Mr. Rahul Gandhi's political career to the outcome of assembly elections. It can turn disastrous and mar his chances to be projected as the party's prime ministerial candidate in 2014. The tide in the assembly elections will thus determine the course of his political future.
The writer is a Delhi based political analyst and commentator