‘Reluctant’ politician to Congress president: A re-look at Rahul Gandhi’s political journeyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/reluctant-politician-to-congress-president-a-re-look-at-rahul-gandhis-political-journey-4967728/

‘Reluctant’ politician to Congress president: A re-look at Rahul Gandhi’s political journey

From witty criticisms on Twitter to selfies with children, Rahul Gandhi has never so much hogged the limelight in his 13-year-old political career as he takes the charge of the Grand Old Party

Rahul Gandhi Congress president
Rahul Gandhi with Pranab Mukherjee after filing his nomination on Monday. (Express photo)

From being a ‘reluctant’ leader to becoming president of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi has finally come out of his mother Sonia Gandhi’s shadow to lead the Grand Old Party.

The Gandhi scion has ardently begun to embrace the political arena as is evident in his surging Twitter popularity and the crowds thronging to his rallies in Gujarat. From witty criticisms to selfies with children, Gandhi has never so much hogged the limelight in his 13-year-old political career.

He owns a pet dog named Pidi, is a black belt in Aikido and believes in destiny when it comes to marriage. These facets of Rahul Gandhi’s personal life have become public only recently and to an extent taken the opposition by surprise, who have till now seen the Gandhi scion through the prism of names like ‘Pappu’, ‘Shehzada’ and ‘Italian Prince’.

So, will it be ‘better late than never’ for Rahul Gandhi? It remains to be seen, but he needs to delve more deeper than take the refuge of morality to take out the Congress from the dire situation it is in. In fact, the Congress has lost about 25 elections ever since Rahul Gandhi was made the party vice-president in January 2013.

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With the next Lok Sabha election due in 2019, Gandhi will have to reformulate the alliances and unite the regional satraps, taking care to avoid a repetition of the Bihar drama. Retaining Karnataka and dethroning the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will be no less a daunting task for him next year.

Rahul took the political plunge and contested the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from his Gandhi bastion Amethi, winning by a handsome margin. This established his merit as a politician at a time when pundits regarded his sister Priyanka Gandhi as a more likeable candidate.

After this, Rahul started easing into the political arena and in 2007, he took charge of Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI).

Rahul Gandhi Congress President
Rahul Gandhi has taken the attack to the opposition and criticised PM Narendra Modi’s economic policies. (Express photo)

However, his first mettle came in 2009 during the Lok Sabha elections, when he took charge of the Congress’ campaign and was responsible for reviving the party’s fortunes in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh (Congress won 22 out of 80 seats – its best show in decades).

The Gandhi scion addressed 125 rallies across the state and held on to Amethi. However, his charm failed to woo the voters in Bihar in the 2010 assembly elections and Congress suffered its worst defeat in years, managing only four seats out of 243.

It was only in 2011 that Rahul Gandhi made a name for himself when he began his protest against the Mayawati government over its land acquisition policy and led a farmers agitation in Bhatta Parsaul. Gandhi sneaked into the village on a motorcycle and staged a day-long protest only to be arrested at midnight by the government.

The farmers were demanding more compensation against the acquisition of their land for a highway project. The incident laid the background for the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, which the UPA-II government brought in 2013. Championing the cause of the farmers has been Gandhi’s poll plank even now.

Rahul Gandhi Congress President
Rahul Gandhi performing the last rites of Rajiv Gandhi at Veer Bhoomi. (Express photo)

Elevation as party vice-president in 2013 brought more responsibilities for Rahul Gandhi at a time when the UPA government was facing anti-incumbency and had to shore up voter’s faith ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The year marked an important page in Congress’ history, when Rahul Gandhi held a sudden press conference on September 27, 2013 and tore an ordinance that the Manmohan Singh government had brought to revoke the Supreme Court order that barred convicted criminals from contesting elections. It was believed the government had enacted the ordinance to shield RJD supremo and ally Lalu Prasad Yadav from being convicted in the Fodder Scam. The government eventually withdrew the ordinance.

The slowly rising graph of Rahul Gandhi began to nosedive following a string of Assembly election losses from 2013-2014 (13 elections) and culminated in BJP, riding on a Narendra Modi wave, ending two terms of Congress rule in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress was reduced to just 44 seats after winning 206 in the previous general elections.

What compounded the crisis was Rahul Gandhi’s sudden disappearing act immediately after the thrashing, with the opposition going all guns blazing to label him as a reluctant politician. The country’s media went into a speculation overdrive as the Gandhi scion went into a 56-day sabbatical as stories of him on a holiday in Italy to him surfacing in Uttarakhand doing the rounds. Gandhi was seen as running away from responsibility at a time when there was a need to galvanise the Grand Old Party and inject fresh blood. In fact, it was a party of ageing stars like P Chidambaram, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and it was the perfect opportunity for Rahul to show his mettle.

Rahul Gandhi Congress President
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi paying homage at Indira Gandhi samadhi in New Delhi on October 31, 1987. (Express photo)

From the ashes, emerged Rahul 2.0 as he took on the BJP-led opposition with gusto and his branding of the Narendra Modi government as ‘Suit-boot-ki sarkar’ echoes even now as the saffron party tries to hard sell its pro-poor image.

The revitalized and rejuvenated Gandhi, once seen as being reticent about sharing his views on crucial issues, took on the Centre over its economic policies – mainly demonetisation and GST – and his astute use of Twitter has brought him closer to what can be perceived a mass leader. He has campaigned aggressively for the Himachal and Gujarat assembly elections and no doubt it will be a big test for the Gandhi scion.

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The election of Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief is imminent, but will he be able to take the party to its glory days remains to be seen.