Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that his priority is to strengthen the organisation and not run for Prime Minister is per se unexceptionable. No leader of any standing would publicly place his own ambitions above the party. Nor can Rahul of his own accord admit to being in the prime ministerial race. Yet by holding up Mahatma Gandhi as his role model and extolling the virtues of detachment, the Congress vice-president has signalled a reluctance to wield power should he be faced with the eventuality. The ambiguity in this cannot but unsettle the Congress rank and file, which has since Independence looked to the family to provide leadership, and assumed by force of habit that the fifth-generation Nehru-Gandhi would take his rightful place when the time came. The confusion and disillusionment will be the greater for coinciding with the penultimate phase of the United Progressive Alliance’s crisis-ridden second term. With just a year to go for the general election, the ruling coalition needs more than ever to appear coherent and united. Any dithering at this time can only be to the advantage of the principal Opposition, where there is already a buzz around Narendra Modi. Congresspersons are bound to be grappling with some hard questions. If Rahul is in no mood to embrace power politics, then why did he agree to be number two in a party where the number one has ruled herself out of the prime ministerial stakes?

There was logic in the presumption that Rahul’s elevation was a precursor to his projection as the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate. Rahul surely would not have waited eight long years to accept a party post of such obvious significance if he meant to throw in the towel when the bigger opportunity came. All indications were to the effect that reluctant as he was, Rahul would eventually bite the bullet, if only out of a sense of duty towards his ‘inheritance’ — India’s largest political party. Indeed, Rahul’s emotional speech at the Congress’s Jaipur plenary was all about fulfilling a moral obligation: “My mother came to my room and cried because she understands power is poison,” he had said. An outsider watching all this might want to ask why the clan cannot once and for all sever the umbilical cord that links it to the Congress. For, as long as the family is in active politics it will find itself inescapably under pressure to lead the party. Rahul’s problem is that he wants to democratise a Congress brought up on dynasty. But his mere presence is enough to foster sycophancy. The Congress and its First Family should resolve this dilemma soon or find themselves left behind in the coming big battle.

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