Beyond the return of the prodigal

Will Rahul’s presence make as much news as his absence did?

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Ashish Mehta | April 17, 2015 | New Delhi


#rahul gandhi   #congress   #rahul gandhi leave   #rahul gandhi sabbatical   #rahul gandhi returns   #rahul returns  


Rahul Gandhi’s disappearance and reappearance have led to much discussion and debate. That is surprising, because he is a leader far outshined by his mother, in a party far outshined by Modi’s strident BJP. In other words, the leader No 2 of the party No 2 does not carry as much weight as it seems to a large section of Congress workers.

If his absence could have a serious national impact, the UPA 1 and 2 governments would have had a different destiny, the 2014 results would have been different. If Rahul could learn political lessons and rejuvenate the party – as many expect him to – the Delhi results, in the least, could have been a bit different.

READ: From Rahul Gandhi’s reflection to enlightenment of Congress

He seems to be in the wrong profession, going by his critics. His mysterious sabbatical (and more importantly, the lack of any explanation for it) is the final pointer to his lack of readiness to plunge full time into the hustle and bustle of politics. In that case, his reappearance should have as little impact on national life as the 56 days of his unexplained leave.

This critical appraisal, however, is superficial. The grand old party is the natural habitat for palace conspiracies. What rumours and whispers narrate is this: Rahul has charisma to lead, if not India yet, at least the demoralised Congress workers, and he has been waiting for a free hand to deliver. But Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the party old guard are not yet ready to relinquish power to him, and he, in turn, is sulking, which also explains his leave of absence. Going by this theory, he would have fought national and state elections differently, but his role was limited to road shows.

READ: Rahul Gandhi back from sabbatical, trends on Twitter

It is difficult to figure out the potential of a man whose whereabouts for close to two months are a mystery – as much as his views on most matters of governance are. But this much can be safely said: he has the charisma and chutzpah to emerge as the challenger if and when Modi starts faltering.

Call them gimmicks, but his “discovery of India” trips with food-sharing and night-stays with the marginalised showed he was prepared to think beyond the politics-as-usual. Systematic clean-up of organisational elections was a rare and welcome move, even if its natural follow-up at the national level of his party will remain pending. Tearing up an ordinance of the government-led by his own party was, of course, a tad juvenile but his theatrics has takers. In short, he is what the US media once called Obama: a work in progress.

Can he realise all the potential he has as the leader No 2 of the party No 2? We will not have to wait long for the answer: on Sunday, he will lead his party’s protests against amendments in the land bill. This also happens to be an area where he has some track-record, with his Niyamgiri and Bhatta-Parsaul visits. This is also an issue on which the Modi government is on defensive, though the Congress and the allied opposition are yet to go on full offensive. The rally is only a start; Rahul will have to show his political acumen inside parliament, and in bringing the opposition together. If he can prove himself in this battle, then all the brouhaha over his absence will be worth it.

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