There is a healthy tradition in cricket and many other sports of the captain or a former captain, with admiration for a young man’s leadership skills, endorsing his name for the hot seat to the administrators and the selectors while simultaneously agreeing to play under the new helmsman. When last asked to lead the Indian team, it was Sachin Tendulkar who suggested Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the job and has since been uncomplainingly playing under him. It is a rare politician who would defer to a subordinate; Sonia Gandhi did that when she nominated Manmohan Singh to be Prime Minister in her place. It is a different matter that in the public perception she is the leader and he is the one being led. Per se, there can be no objections to Manmohan Singh asking to work under Rahul Gandhi, whom he has also held up as the “ideal Prime Minister” post-the 2014 general election. If the Prime Minister has indeed expressed this wish in a spirit of sportsmanship, then hats off to his grace and humility. The problem is the blatantly unequal nature of relationship between the Nehru-Gandhis and the phalanx of Congresspersons who by instinct and training are happiest in worship mode.
Not just the Prime Minister, all of the Congress has been clamouring to have Rahul lead the party into the big election. Even in the afterglow of the United Progressive Alliance’s 2009 victory, which the outside world widely and correctly credited to Manmohan Singh’s leadership, there was no dearth of voices within the Congress imploring Rahul to take Dr. Singh’s place unmindful of the insult to a Prime Minister still in office. Congresspersons also neatly skirted questions around Rahul’s fitness and qualifications to lead the country. What complicates matters is the Congress first family’s dichotomous attitude to leadership issues. There is about the clan members a born-to-rule air that has instilled sycophancy and worse among Congresspersons. But equally there seems an unwillingness to lead that is particularly manifest in Rahul. Till date it is not clear what future role he intends to play. Though apparently the second-in-command in the Congress structure, Rahul has managed not to be around at critical times — which is now more than ever considering the monumental nature of problems before the government. These include the worst economic downturn in a decade and unceasing scams and scandals leading to a serious credibility crisis topped by an unhappy prognosis for the election, nationally and in key battleground States like Andhra Pradesh. This is a crisis time equally for the Congress voter: the Prime Minister wants to be led by Rahul who seems least interested in leading. And all this when Narendra Modi is practising hard to be Prime Minister, doing whatever it takes, including declaiming to the nation with a make-believe Red Fort in the background.