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View: Rahul Gandhi has spent nearly two decades in public life but his leadership still remains a work in progress

View: Rahul Gandhi has spent nearly two decades in public life but his leadership still remains a work in progress

View: Rahul Gandhi has spent nearly two decades in public life but his leadership still remains a work in progress
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By KV Prasad  Jun 18, 2022 5:26:25 PM IST (Published)

Rahul Gandhi turns 52 on Sunday. The young leader of the Congress party who could have shaped a different career turned a politician in 2004. The nearly two decade journey is littered with opportunities that could have given him a profile different from a reluctant and hesitant politician to one who is projected by opponents as a bumbling politico. For most people who engaged with Rahul Gandhi were convinced of his being sincere but removed from the world of realpolitik

Birthdays are important milestones in the journey of life. It provides an opportunity to an individual to take a pause, review the progress, its direction and apply course correction, if required, or continue on the chosen path in pursuit of a goal. In the case of a personality in any field, the milestone assumes significance not just for the individual but for the larger community around the person.

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Sunday, June 19th, will be one such occasion for the Congress party in general and Rahul Gandhi, in particular, who will turn 52. With the last 18 years in public life as an elected representative in the Lok Sabha, three from Amethi, once a family pocket borough and currently from Wayanad in Kerala. He made a splash of an entry into politics in 2004 when the Congress announced on a Sunday evening the decision of the young scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family to enter the electoral fray.
Since then Rahul Gandhi’s life remains under intense scrutiny and understandably so in a country where politicians and their successive generations remain active in representing people at different levels of law-making from Panchayat to Parliament and a few taking on additional responsibilities as policy drafters/decision-makers in the government.
Early in this new Avataar, Rahul Gandhi realised his political lineage made it easy for him to break into the highest echelons of law-makers in the country, a privilege many aspiring leaders find it difficult to even think of.
Interestingly, for the past nearly two decades Rahul Gandhi has had a unique distinction of remaining a parliamentarian, first for a decade of a party that led a coalition government and then being placed on the other side of the aisle in the Lok Sabha since 2014.
This 18-year journey of Rahul Gandhi allows one to take a look at the work, attitude, approach and possible direction of a leader on whose shoulders rest the future, rather reluctantly pursued by him, and that of the Grand Old Party. From various accounts of those who interacted with him and others who engaged in a conversation with Rahul Gandhi on a regular basis, there is one common point—he is not a quintessential politician. His ideas sound abstract but underscored his concern for rural inhabitants of the country and toiling citizens suffering quietly due to years of neglect by successive governments.
For the first few years, Rahul Gandhi's role in Parliament was limited to interventions on behalf of the party that led the coalition while in the party, he set himself on the task of reorganising the Youth Congress into an organisation where merit, talent and ability to take forward programmes were recognised by injecting a modicum of democratic and electoral processes and consciously wean it away from the practice of nepotism and relying on favourites. The experiment did not last and by the time he graduated to the main party, he found it difficult to transmit these ideals.
Away from the party, Rahul Gandhi remained reluctant to take up any role in the government despite an open offer from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to induct him into the Council of Ministers. The reluctance, once explained by Rahul Gandhi, was to prevent the formation of an alternate power structure within the government, a stand that allowed the opposition to liken it to power without responsibility. It is another matter that at the Jaipur session of the party in 2013 where he was appointed the vice president, Rahul compared power to poison.
Now, whether a stint in the government would have groomed the young leader’s in administrative skills under the tutelage of a Prime Minister seasoned by years in bureaucracy and create an independent aura is just a theoretical exercise. On the other hand, the only episode he is best remembered for in this phase is his tearing up a piece of paper symbolising the Bill passed by Parliament to grant limited immunity to contest elections for those convicted on charges of corruption by lower courts.
On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi stepped away from the limelight in the initial phase of the Narendra Modi government amid reports he acquired training in mindfulness and meditation. On his return, there was a new zing in his approach and by 2015 he made a stinging attack on the Modi government christening it as "suit-boot ki Sarkar" favouring the rich and industrialist.
In the next few years, he became the party president and by 2018 was on the roll as the party won elections in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and made him immensely confident of breaching the Gujarat citadel of Bharatiya Janata Party. That did not happen but even a few months before the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi sounded confident of having a strategy to limit the BJP.
The results threw up a different picture and Rahul Gandhi walked away from the leadership role taking responsibility for the worst-ever verdict. Since then the Congress party is in a state of drift and it remains to be seen how the reset button activated at Udaipur last month will re-enregise and galvanise the party from its moribund existence.
Way back in 2004 on his birthday, a small group of enthusiastic party workers descended outside 10, Janpath with a band and cymbals with one enterprising karyakarta organising “Nachni Gohri’ (Dancing Horse) to celebrate the occasion in absentia. The irony was Rahul Gandhi travelled away from Delhi, rumoured to have gone abroad. This remains a consistent trait with Rahul often doing the disappearing act even in the midst of a crisis.
Today, on the eve of his birthday hundreds of Congress workers and leaders are out on the streets for a different reason, lodging a collective protest against the government as Rahul Gandhi keeps his date with a law-enforcing agency investigating a case. A quote "Events, dear boy events", attributed to a former British Prime Minister in another context sums up the challenging situation for the leader.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
Read his other columns here
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