The Sunday Leader

Rahul Gandhi’s offside goal

By Vidyadharan MP

Finally Rahul Gandhi has thrown his hat into the ring. Rahul, a fourth generation leader of the Nehru-Gandhi family, has said that he is ready to be the prime minister, if his party emerged as the single largest party in the next general elections, due in April next year. His announcement came in Bangalore during an outreach organised in the last few days of the campaigning for the Karnataka assembly elections, scheduled for 12 May.

“I am pretty convinced that Mr Modi is not going to be prime minister. I can see it in his face. He knows it,” he said in reply to a question at the gathering of prominent citizens.

The questioner persisted: “Will you become prime minister?”

“Well it depends… it depends on how well the Congress party does. If the Congress party is the biggest party, yes,” Rahul Gandhi, who became the Congress Party president,answered.

If the Congress acted as a “platform” (with other parties in a coalition), the BJP didn’t stand a chance of winning the elections, Gandhi said, stressing on opposition unity.

“It is highly unlikely that BJP will form the next government, and the second part is that it is close to impossible that Modi will be the next prime minister,” Gandhi emphatically said.

Rahul Gandhi’s statement made headlines in India not because he is likely to become the next prime minister. It is mainly because it is for the first time that Rahul expressing his desire to take up such a responsibility. He had been in politics for a long time now – more than 13 years. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who relished the party president’s post for her son only last year, had been trying to groom him to take up the mantle. He was given various responsibilities. Butno where, Rahul had been able to prove his mettle convincingly.

Mrs Gandhi, according to party insiders, and many senior party leaders wanted Rahul to join the Manmohan Singh government and gain experience in running the government. But he was not so keen, preferring to play second fiddle to his mother. Not only that. In 2013, after becoming the vice-president of the party, he even publicly went against an Ordinance brought by the Singh government to negate a Supreme Court ruling on the disqualification of convicted lawmakers. At a press conference, he even tore apart the Ordinance to show his anger against the government move. Obviously, he could not have taken such a position without his mother’s approval. Mrs Gandhi was the chairperson of the UPA and nothing had moved without her approval during Singh government’s rule.

Then why did he adopt such a stance, to embarrass the mild mannered and scholarly prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Why was he angry against Singh? Or was he playing double game as the government was being attacked by the opposition on the Ordinance move to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling? Anyway, his pretended anger showed his immaturity and disdain for taking up responsibility. Because Rahul could have easily asked Singh to drop the controversial Ordinance.

After a long wait, Rahul Gandhi became the president of the party in December last year, even as the poor heath of his mother made it difficult to run the party efficiently. Even after he became the president, he has been avoiding queries on his readiness to become prime minister if his party performed well in the next elections.

We don’t know why Rahul committed to this, this time. The time does not seem to be ripe for such a statement. Congress looks in no shape to win at least 75 seats in the next general elections. It is losing States after States in assembly elections. It is in power only in four States now – as against the BJP which is in power, alone or with alliance, in 21 States. If Congress loses Karnataka too, its strength will go down further. Morally too it will be a big blow to Rahul Gandhi.

Like in Gujarat last year, Gandhi had been working very hard to help his party retain power in Karnataka. It is a challenging task, though chief minister Siddaramaih’s performance has been satisfactory. Besides the incumbency, he is facing high velocity campaigns from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, besides other leaders.

Modi spent three days in the State, addressing several rallies. Shah has been almost camping in the State for nearly two months. But will they be able to turn the tables on Siddaramaih? It is very difficult to predict now. The race is very tight as in Gujarat last year. Also in the run is another party, almost local, Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister Deve Gowda. However, maximum he can hope for is the role of a king-maker in case of a hung assembly.

A victory here may boost the confidence of  Rahul Gandhi as well as other party leaders. It can claim to arrest the rot. But fighting the next general election is a different ball game. Especially because, there is a serious move from other opposition parties to put up a combined show. Such a show by Mayawati (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav (SP) brought down the BJP in two Lok Sabha seats in politically most important Uttar Pradesh and one in Bihar – despite the party being in power in both States. The Congress cannot expect many seats in such a scenario in thes States unless it enters their opposition alliance. UP has 80 seats while Bihar has 40 in the Lok Sabha. In these States, even BJP’s fate is very tight.

Congress will be able to win only few seats from most States, likely to leave its position as it is now, unless something drastic happens.

BJP’s position is also dwindling. Few allies have left the party, while some are uncomfortable. Modi’s own image is nowhere near the 2014 level, when he was seen as a strongman, doer and incorruptible. Even now, he remains clean, but many of his businessmen ‘friends’ have damaged his name. Also, he has not been able to create jobs, while economy is said to be in a mismanaged state.  In short, people are not happy – especially in rural India. Farmers are the worst affected. And the government has not been able to find any solution to the problems.

In such a scenario, BJP’s numbers are certain to come down sharply. If it falls below a certain level, even Modi’s candidature will become difficult.

It seems the next general elections will throw up a new prime minister – from leaders like Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav or Mamata Bannerjee. Their parties look like in a position to win substantial numbers with support from State leaders like K. Chandrasekhara Rao (Telengana chief minister), Naveen Patnail (Orissa chief minister), Stalin (DMK) or (AIADMK Dinakaran faction), SharadPawar (NCP) and Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena).

So be ready for a coalition government, though the election time is far away.

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