Ending years of speculation, it has become official now. In the next few days, Rahul Gandhi will take over the reins of the grand old Congress party. There is no surprise over his elevation to the post; only the timing was uncertain, at least to the public. The baton has been passed on to him, a baton held mostly by his predecessors in the family. He is taking over the post at a time when the chips are down and the party has seen its worst performance both in Parliamentary and State elections. It is the first time that the 130-year-old party has been reduced to double-digit in Lok Sabha. Its space in many State Assemblies too has shrunk as never before.
To come out of this existential crisis, Mr Gandhi has to take several drastic steps. He has to stop treading the beaten path of ‘high command’ culture. Power concentration at one level is the sure shot to decay in course of time. Regional leaders should be allowed to emerge,strengthening the party’s federal structure. The recent emphatic victory in Punjab should show the way. Mr Gandhi should make sure that regional batons are passed on to young leaders in every State. A generational shift is the need of the hour especially because a large chunk of voters is in the ‘youth group’and their hopes and aspirations are understood better by a young leadership. The party has no dearth of such leaders in most States.
In keeping the allies together, Mr Gandhi can take a leaf out of his mother Sonia Gandhi’s book who had developed a special knack and skill in the matter. Even some of the leaders of parties which are perennially inimical to Congress and its policies had started appreciating her way of keeping the flock together, despite ideological differences. With regional aspirations on the rise, coalition governments are the norm of the day. Congress party chief’s caliber will be tested in keeping the allies in good humour without compromising on the core ideology. It seems several defeats in the past have made Mr Gandhi wiser. Leading from the front in Gujarat, he has infused a new spirit in the party which was down and out there. He has learnt the art of stitching together a workable combination of parties and castes to take on the ruling BJP.
Mr Gandhi should focus on rebuilding the party from grass roots level where it is facing a slow death. In several States it has more leaders than foot soldiers. It is here the new party president should turn his focus on and build booth-level set-up where its principal opponent has taken an upper hand.He is taking over the new assignment at a time when the party is facing or going to face elections in some of the major States. Gujarat will be followed by Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and several north-east States. Hence Mr Gandhi’s early days as party chief are going to be a test by fire.(Published on 27th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 48)