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Ageing queen, reluctant heir: why Congress must elevate Rahul now

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

A third of this country's people don't care who is elected to rule over them. It can be assumed that at least as many, if not more, do not care if Rahul Gandhi will ever become the head of the Congress. It is hard to tell the bigger irony - the indifference to his elevation as party chief or that it's not even being asked whether he will ever become the head of the government.

In spite of this, the incessant conjecturing over Rahul's elevation continues. This time the background is provided by the latest round of assembly polls in which the Congress was voted out in two crucial states and bagged second and third places in two others. Victory in a small Union Territory provided the only consolation for the Grand Old Party.

Also read - Why 74-year old Amarinder thinks Sonia is old and he is not

Is this renewed clamour for Rahul's promotion because of the victory in Puducherry? If that's really the case, then it's a steep decline in the party's expectations from him, considering the last time these calls had intensified was when the Congress and its allies had just won the Bihar election.

The truth is that the throne is his for the taking; it's just that the coronation that keeping getting pushed. Rahul has already been running the show and taking many important decisions, if not all. Of course, his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi is still in charge, but the responsibilities appear to be neatly divided between the two. While Rahul has been looking after the party organisation for some time now, Sonia apparently takes care of alliances.

So, when rebellions in states need to be tackled, Rahul's is the final word. When a joint action with other parties, say a march up the Raisina Hill, is called for, Sonia steps in. The problem is that this division of labour it not as smooth as it sounds. The leadership question has been stretched out for so long it has turned into an ever-running soap opera, starring an ageing matriarch, a reluctant heir and two camps of vassals.

Is the renewed clamour to make Rahul Congress chief because of the party's victory in Puducherry?

The senior camp is afraid of the party's takeover by the young turks and is, therefore, pushing for Sonia's continuance at the helm until as long as they can manage. The future bosses think they have been waiting in the wings for too long and want Rahul to finally take charge. Official spokespersons and unofficial planters exist in both camps, and they keep telling journalists not to believe what the other says.

There is no reason to believe that the mother and son are at odds with each other, but there is hardly any rapport between their two camps. When Rahul takes a decision that the seniors don't agree with, they rush to Sonia. When the juniors don't like something the seniors have said or done, they complain to Rahul. This duality more than anything else is hurting the Congress the most.

With only 44 members and facing the belligerent treasury benches, the party is struggling in Lok Sabha. It's going strong in the Upper House but only until it leads state governments, which are increasingly slipping out of its hands. The recent losses have come as a setback and the upcoming contests are all uphill tasks.

As much as the party needs strong and autonomous leadership in states, it needs a clear, open and strong line of leadership in New Delhi. It is futile to imagine a Congress president from outside the Nehru-Gandhi clan, so let's get that idea out of the way. What the party needs right now is to end the ambiguity over the leadership and allow the heir to step forward. Whatever the consequences, at least the limbo will end, and those who do care about these questions will be able to move on to more important concerns.

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First published: 2 June 2016, 9:23 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.