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In his AICC speech, Congress vice president (and campaign chief) Rahul Gandhi was trying to say all the right things — and perhaps in the right manner. He was aggressive, sarcastic, cajoling. He even tried to be inspiring and argumentative. He spoke of the UPA government’s achievements, he spoke of opponents and he spoke of the possible vision that only the Congress can uphold. If one were a willing Congress supporter, it was easy to suspend disbelief and dream of the Congress’s electoral fortunes in the coming general election.
However, as one tries to make sense of the speech and its possible implications, one inevitably stumbles upon a few challenges that should stare Congresspersons in the eye in terms of what lies ahead for the party in the coming months. And if the party wants to share Rahul’s confidence that “Congress-mukt” Bharat was indeed an impossible dream, the Congress will surely have to reinvent itself to reinvent Bharat. But let us restrict ourselves to immediate tasks for the moment. The Lok Sabha elections constitute that immediate task and, in this regard, five challenges can be imagined.
To begin with, the Congress party will have to come to terms with its decision not to project Rahul as its prime ministerial candidate. That was certainly a reasonable move. All opinion polls indicate that Narendra Modi is much ahead of Rahul Gandhi on popularity charts. So it does not make sense to announce his name as the Congress candidate at this stage. Besides, it is a good principle that while there would be some leaders expected to be running for prime minister later, turning the election into a plebiscitary mode needs to be avoided. However, having taken this stand, it does not augur well to have party functionaries announcing ad nauseam, from party fora, that Rahul indeed is the only leader if the party were to form the next government.
This only shows that Rahul and other leaders are not in sync on this issue. In fact, the real challenge before the party is to ensure that there is a move towards genuine collective leadership. One way to do this would be to project at least three or four more individuals as the party’s valued leaders. Another would be to convince observers that decisions are taken by a group of leaders and not by any supreme leader. This is a huge task for a party in which the top leadership is seen primarily as a function of heredity.
The second challenge is about the ensuing campaign. Rahul aggressively explained the achievements of the UPA government and that continued…