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Taking the Plunge: Rahul Gandhi, VP Congress Party

India’s reluctant prince, Rahul Gandhi has finally taken the full political plunge, anointing himself the vice president of the Congress party. This effectively makes him the main party mascot for the 2014 general elections, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

(Above): Rahul Gandhi, the new vice president of India’s Congress party.

Though Rahul has been the second most powerful person in the Congress after his mother Sonia Gandhi for some time now, the appointment officially makes him so. The rest, of course, do not matter in the party, unless they toe the Gandhi line. For long, Sonia has been criticized for belittling the office of the Prime Minister, by being the real head of the government and not Manmohan Singh.

Rahul too was being castigated for following the same model – of wielding absolute power in the party, without being nominated to exercise such authority. Officially Rahul continued to manage the youth wing of the party, though he is in his forties when all cricketers, except Sachin Tendulkar, retire.

It is not yet clear whether Rahul would be the Congress party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Indications are that he will again follow his mother’s footsteps of running the government without being part of it. This, of course, can happen only if the Congress party wins the elections again or has enough allies to support it.

The Congress will not be able to count on Mamata Banerjee for sure. She recently threatened to beat up Manmohan for not releasing enough funds for the state of West Bengal. The beleaguered Prime Minister is unlikely to have said “theek hai (okay)” to Mamata’s statement.

Rahul’s elevation happened during a Congress brainstorming in Jaipur last month. It was obvious that the move to elevate him was pre-decided, though Congress party members, imbued by total sycophancy to the Gandhis, tried to pretend that they had no clue about the move.

Clearly, they had been advised to act surprised in front of the media, but made a hash of the acting, though politicians generally do a good con job, especially when they are lying about corruption.

The only person who seemed genuinely astonished at Rahul’s new position was Manmohan. He probably did not know, an indication of his status in the party, when even those hired to burst crackers and beat the drums had been briefed about the celebratory moment. Clearly, Manmohan’s best days are past him now.

The Congress party won the 2009 elections portraying him as their Prime Ministerial candidate. Corruption scandals have tarnished his image. The Gandhis, meanwhile, have moved on, letting Manmohan handle the corruption bogey. They have instead focused their attention on being popular with the “aam aadmi” broadly defined as illiterate poor folks by announcing gargantuan doles involving tax payers money that they consider theirs to play around with.

As a result, the educated hard-working middle classes are disenchanted, probably making the younger lot question their parents’ approach of making them study so much to be eligible for jobs, but disqualifying them from the aam aadmi status, reservations and freebies, including direct cash payments from the government.

Rahul marked his elevation in Jaipur by making a speech, which was high on emotion and eloquence. Prior to this event, many said say he was unfit to lead the country due to his apparent low IQ and overall mediocrity due to which he did not even complete his college studies abroad.

However, he proved his detractors wrong by managing to deliver a speech that was clearly not written and perhaps not fully understood by him.

Given the extremely low expectations from Rahul by the whole of India, except Congress-men, he scored a few points just for the delivery.

(Above): Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi’s picture on the Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto. [Photo: Indian National Congress]

The enigma about his thoughts and solutions about the country’s many problems remain. The main opposition, BJP, meanwhile is competing aggressively to be worse than the Congress.

Senior leader Sushma Swaraj recently had her Mamata moment when she said that India should behead 10 Pakistani soldiers for the one Indian killed. Maybe it would be a good idea to send Sushma and Mamata, itching for a street fight, for time on the Indo-Pak border, giving our overworked soldiers a break.

If the Congress is in bad shape, the BJP makes it appear good, by being in very bad shape. The BJP leaders continue to bicker and fight. Their say that such in-fighting and airing of views is a sign of true democratic functioning unlike in the Congress where nobody has the guts say anything except the Gandhis.

But there is a limit to which the intrigue and quarrels can be considered healthy. Besides, like the Gandhis for the Congress, nothing in the BJP moves without the blessings of the RSS that controls cadres, logistics and hardline Hindutva ideology.

The RSS, like the Gandhis, is wary of any popular BJP leader emerging that could threaten their position. It likes to prop up leaders such as the reluctantly removed BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who fancy themselves as national leaders due to the opportunity to appear on TV. By similar logic, reality show contestants in Big Boss could hope to be Members of Parliament.

Currently, the RSS is apprehensive of being subsumed by Narendra Modi. Given such a fragmented opposition, it is no wonder that the Congress sees a winner in Rahul Gandhi now that he has delivered a speech.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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EDITORIAL: Rising Middle Class Agony
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POLITICS: Rahul Takes the Plunge
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HERITAGE: Honoring Gadarites
COMMUNITY: Call for Immigration Reform
FINANCE: Filing Your Taxes Right
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