Matter of time: why Rahul Gandhi won't lead the Congress anytime soon
- Rahul Gandhi was expected to be leading the Congress by now
- But his elevation as president has been delayed again
- The party doesn\'t want him to be blamed for a poor result in Bihar
- Party strategists want to elevate him ahead of the \'winnable\' Punjab election
- Some in the party feel Sonia Gandhi is still more effective
That Rahul Gandhi will be anointed as the next Congress chief is a no-brainer. But when?
The question has occupied the party rank and file, and indeed the public, for at least a year now. And it's still no closer to resolution.
The latest grapevine had him taking over sometime this month or the next. But sources suggest that is unlikely to happen. For the following three reasons:
1) The party will likely do poorly in the Bihar polls
The Congress is expected to be a marginal player in the Bihar assembly election to be held later this year. A bad result won't do Rahul any good if he in the saddle, especially when he seems to have finally found his political vigour.
Indeed, a poor result, coming after the 2014 Lok Sabha poll disaster and a string of subsequent assembly loses, will only strengthen Rahul's detractors.
His critics have long argued that he isn't a good enough leader to win elections. They point out that the Congress has not done well in polls for which he led the campaign like the 2012 UP assembly election.
Sonia and Rahul have worked well in tandem lately. It would be tempting to keep the arrangement going
Indeed, a good number of candidates who he has campaigned for in various elections have ended up losing.
The party, therefore, is in no mood to give the opposition more ammunition by putting Rahul in charge just ahead of the Bihar polls.
If the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad alliance, in which the Congress is a partner, halts the march of the NDA, the political climate will be favourable to anoint Rahul. Or so the Congress strategists seem to think.
2) The Punjab election campaign may be a better launch pad
If Rahul has to be made party chief ahead of an election, there is hardly a better option than the Punjab assembly polls in early 2017.
The Congress believes it has a decent shot at retaking power, largely because of anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP government. If it does prevail, Rahul, newly-appointed president, can get credit.
And if he gets the job after the Bihar polls, Rahul will have at least a year to set the party's Punjab unit in order.
He will have to check infighting, reshape the organisation and plan an effective campaign. If Rahul manages to do this and the party wins, it can help reshape the popular perception of him at the national level. No wonder his team is already at work on this.
3) Sonia Gandhi is still going strong
Then, there is the omnipresence of Sonia Gandhi. Despite the talk of her moving aside, she seems fully in control. Indeed, she is the one directing the party's strategy in the parliament.
A significant, and influential, section of the Congress feels she is a more effective leader than her son. And she is seen as more acceptable to former and potential allies than Rahul.
The Congress believes it will win Punjab in 2017 and if Rahul is party president then, he can get credit
Also, Sonia and Rahul seem to have worked well in tandem in the past few months, and it would be tempting for the party to keep the arrangement going.
All these aspects are being assessed and reassessed before the timing of Rahul's elevation is decided. For it's no ordinary decision for the Congress.
"It's important to analyse and understand all the factors that could affect him. He is in no hurry," said a party leader. "However, the announcement is an important event for him and the party. It has to be a catalyst for the party and its politics."