Can Rahul Pull The Chestnuts Out Of The Fire For The Congress?
The country's oldest Congress party which was in the vanguard of the independence struggle is at the crossroads once again. Its image has taken a severe drubbing and heir apparent and party vice president Rahul Gandhi has failed to galvanise the slumbering giant.
This is the youthful leader's single biggest challenge. The party is in a shambles because of the leadership's unimaginative and lack lustre approach apart from the intense factionalism causing a leadership vacuum in the states.
The only saving grace for it since the last general elections in April-May 2014 has been the victory in Punjab, thanks largely to the anti-incumbency against the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine and in great measure to Capt Amarinder Singh being made the helmsman in the sensitive border state.
The nonchalance and arrogance of the party's central leadership has cost it dear with certain key leaders in the East and Northeast abandoning ship due to frustration for which the Congress has had to pay a heavy price.
Assam in particular where a frustrated Hementa Biswal Sarma ditched the Congress to join the BJP succeeded in winning the assembly elections handsomely considered the gateway to the Northeast. This was a major breakthrough for the Lotus party.
The party high command's penchant for parachuting hand picked individuals loyal to the leadership to govern states has cost the old Lady of Bori Bunder dearly. This has led to a disquiet and the Congress being shorn of mass leaders in the states.
There is no doubt that the Congress has to undertake serious course corrections to put its house in order. Winning the confidence of the people requires thinking out of the box for building a rapport reminiscent of the late Indira Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi and all the opposition leaders including the regional satrapsenjoying their spheres of influence have failed to make any dent on the phenomenon called Modi who has bashed on regardless steamrolling the opposition.
Modi will be completing three years in office next week on the 26th of May. Since the later half of 2013 when Narendra Modi led the campaign as the BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee, it became evident there was no stopping him in occupying the seat of power in the majestic South Block on the Raisina Hill in the national capital.
Single handedly a tireless Modi unleashed a campaign blitzkreig securng for the saffron brigade a majority for the first time in the Lok Sabha.The Hindi heartland voted overwhelmingly for Modi and the Lotus party in the April-May 2014 general elections.
He continues to enjoy the top spot in the popularity ratings with no other leader anywhere close to him. He has emerged as the undisputed strongman of the BJP.
Compared to this the Congress which has ruled the country for nearly six decades is literally in the dumps and at a loss how to revive the party along with infusing confidence among its die hard supporters. It desperately needs to reinvent itself to catch the imagination of the people sooner than later.
BJP strategists particularly Modi and party president Amit Shah have managed to remain several steps ahead of the entire opposition. Their runaway victory in the recent assembly elections in the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh has set the stage for the next general elections in 2019.
Even as Shah is on a 95-day yatra all over the country in the runup to the 2019 elections, celebrations are afoot to highlight the achievements of the Modi government in the 36 months that he has been in office.
President Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress veteran who completes his term in Rashtrapati Bhawan two months later on July 25, advised the young leader not to be unnerved by defeat but to act decisively.
The first citizen was speaking last weekend at the release of a book -- India's Indira, A Centennial Tribute -- with Rahul Gandhi all ears sitting on the podium. He recalled when the Congress was defeated in 1977, Indira Gandhi had told him: "Pranab, don't get unnerved by defeat. This is the time to act."
Mukherjee recalled when the party split in 1978, Indira was elected President of the party and within 20 days she constituted the working committee, the parliamentary board, state committees and readied the party for polls in the states. She won decisively in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and emerged as the single largest party in Maharashtra, forming the government there too.
He emphasised "she took decisions quickly and changed the fortunes of the party." It was apparent the President felt concerned about the current state of affairs in the Congress and impressed upon Rahul to learn from his grandmother.
Congress insiders attributed the current indecisiveness to the internal power tussle in the party. In the circumstances Sonia Gandhi remains the final authority which has been welcomed by the non-BJP parties.
Mukherjee said Indira Gandhi would never hesitate and underlined the need for quick and bold decision making. That the Congress requires is a radical overhaul is not in doubt. It is in this context that Rahul Gandhi has begun consultations with state unit presidents and others from the organisation before unleashing a sweeping organisational revamp.
The endeavour is to end the prevailing disunity and strive for consensus based decisions. He realises one of the factors keeping the Congress out of power in most of the states including Odisha is the bane of factionalism.
Sources expressed confidence that restructuring in the states as well as the AICC will be completed within the next few months before Rahul Gandhi hopefully takes over the reigns of Congress president from his mother Sonia Gandhi.
( T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)