Born to rule — On Rahul Gandhi's elevation

But only sound political vision will help Rahul Gandhi in the face-off with Narendra Modi

Updated - November 22, 2017 12:05 am IST

Published - November 22, 2017 12:04 am IST

From the time he entered politics, and won Amethi in 2004 , Rahul Gandhi knew the leadership of the Congress was his for the asking. The only question was when his mother, Sonia Gandhi, would be ready to step down. The inevitable succession from mother to son is related to the very nature of the Congress. Unfortunately for the party, no one but a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family can hold its potentially fractious elements together. So, in the absence of some totally unexpected twist, the December election process announced will see Mr. Gandhi as Congress president. This will formalise his de facto position as the leader of India’s largest opposition party, which is struggling to stitch together a national-level alternative to the resurgent BJP, under the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi combine. The timing of the elevation is significant. In the period immediately after the devastating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress did not want to push Mr. Gandhi to the top: that would have meant exposing him to unflattering comparisons with Mr. Modi, when the BJP was in its most dominant phase. Despite Ms. Gandhi’s ill-health, Mr. Gandhi seemed in no hurry to take up the leadership. That he is taking on the responsibility just before the Assembly election in Gujarat, a State the Congress has not won since 1985, is a signal to the electorate that Mr. Gandhi is ready for the long haul.

The real challenge for Mr. Gandhi is not winning the Congress leadership, but positioning himself as a rock in the way of the Modi juggernaut . When his mother chose not to stake claim for the prime ministership in 2004, and instead invited Manmohan Singh to head the UPA government, he might have assumed that only youth and inexperience stood in his way. But in the years since then, Mr. Gandhi betrayed a sense of entitlement without showing a willingness to be part of the government. At no time was this more evident than when he wanted torn up an ordinance promulgated by his own government to negate a Supreme Court verdict on disqualification of legislators on their conviction by a trial court. What he projected as a stand in keeping with public opinion came across as an arrogant act by a dynast against a Prime Minister beholden to him for staying in power. More recently, Mr. Gandhi has shown greater political maturity. He has spoken up against the failings of the Modi government and refused to be cowed down by trolls on social media. Dynasty might have taken him to the top of the party, but if he is to lead a country of India’s size, he will have to articulate a political vision people buy into. Nothing will be gained by waiting for Mr. Modi to mess up. Mr. Gandhi will need to show he is prime ministerial material, not just a reflexive critic of Mr. Modi and the BJP’s brand of politics.

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