Rahul Sends a Message From His US Travels – I Am Ready to Take Over

The Gandhi scion will first have to find complete acceptability within his party before he takes over from his mother.

Congress vice-president delivering a lecture at Berkeley. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: From the US, where he is travelling, Rahul Gandhi has sent a strong message to the Congress that he is ready to take over the reins of power from his mother and become the president of the party. Going further, he has made it clear that he would not shy away from becoming the leader of the opposition, from there onwards even perhaps the combined opposition candidate for the prime ministership in 2019.

Rahul, who was so far ambivalent about taking over the control of the Congress from his mother Sonia Gandhi, has listed his priorities, his intentions and his future road map while interacting with students at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley where he delivered a lecture and then took questions.

He said that the process of organisational elections within his party is underway and pointedly said if the party wanted, he was ready to become the president.

Sources here also say that so far Rahul was hesitant to throw his hat in as the combined prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming 2019 general elections since he was ready to take a back seat in favour of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. But with Nitish joining hands with the BJP and forming a government with the party, his chances to lead the opposition are over.

So far it has been Sonia who has been the face of the party when it came to interacting with other opposition leaders, hosting them for meets and presenting a combined front against the BJP. Rahul was neither ready to take on the responsibility nor has the same acceptability amongst opposition leaders as Sonia does.

How and if that will change is still a question mark since Rahul’s leadership qualities have still not been proven – he has not won any state elections for the party and does not enjoy the support his mother does within the party.

But it is clear that he now finds himself ready. Team Rahul has been working on a strategy to showcase him as the future leader of the Congress, ready to take on the mantle and legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family; projecting him internationally as a serious political player is part of that strategy.

Rahul’s criticism of his own party leaders saying they had become arrogant and lost the party’s connect with the people before the 2014 elections, which led to a spectacular loss, has not gone down well within the party structure. They feel there are many things he could articulate better.

Rahul’s criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – his policies, his attempts to polarise and divide society, lynchings, the economic slowdown because of demonetiastion and GST – are all seen as calculated to pay back Modi in the same coin. Modi has run down previous Congress governments when on foreign soil, not once but on every occasion when he has been abroad.

As a Congress leader put it,“it is futile of Smriti Irani and Amit Shah to cry foul. If you can’t take the heat, don’t go into the kitchen”. Rahul’s visit and speech at Berkeley drew an immediate response at home from Irani and others from the BJP; the I&B minister held a press conference in which she mocked Gandhi as a “failed dynast.”

It will not be easy for Rahul, however. With first the assembly elections this year and then the general elections in 2019, Rahul has to first win acceptability within his own party, put his state and regional organisations in order, turn them into election machines capable of fighting elections and then find acceptability from the people. The Congress has been continuously losing elections and now needs the crutches of other political parties to take on a resurgent BJP which has a huge amount of resources at its disposal to fight elections.

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