It is rare for two columnists of diverse political leanings to begin their column on the same day in two different newspapers with the same words: “On June 19, Rahul Gandhi will turn 40. That was the age his father became prime minister.” But that’s how Minhaz Merchant begins his piece in The Times of India today, and that’s how Bharat Bhushan begins his piece in Mail Today.
Both articles are occasioned by prime minister Manmohan Singh‘s comments at his national press conference to The Rahul Gandhi question: when will you take him into the cabinet and, sotto voce, when will he replace you? The 2009 UPA victory and the Congress general secretary’s presumed role in it, plus the assumption that Singh has only been warming the chair for the scion of the family are a given.
So, which model will Rahul Gandhi follow as he enters the fifth decade of his life?
Writes Minhaz Merchant, author of a biography on Rajiv Gandhi:
“An intelligent and sensitive man whose common touch makes him a formidable political opponent, Rahul Gandhi concedes he owes his position to his birth. He is not proud of a system that allows such feudal anomalies and wants to bring internal democracy to the Youth Congress with transparent elections so that young men and women of merit can enter politics without the shoehorn of a surname.
“Rahul is silent about applying the same high standard to the top echelons of the party, including the post of president which his mother Sonia Gandhi has held for 12 consecutive years—a record in the Congress’s 125-year history…. If Rahul has his father’s sense of noblesse oblige-and he probably does-this is a situation that should make him feel uncomfortable. Does he have the political will to do something about it? At the moment, perhaps not.”
Bharat Bhushan, on the other hand, says Sonia will bring him to the forefront “only when he is sure of success because failure will unacceptable”. And three tests present themselves in the run-up to 2014.
“The first such opportunity may come with the elections in Uttar Pradesh in the first quarter of 2012. That is also the year when the presidential election is due in the month of June. Now, it has never happened in India that a serving prime minister has been kicked upstairs to Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, conditions can be such at that time that this might become conceivable.
“A mid-course change could also come about in the summer of 2012 as Congressmen are looking for change by that time — two years away from the next general election seems to be a reasonable time to put a new leader in place to create a buzz and see them through the polls at a time when they would be faced with 10- years of anti- incumbency. By that time Manmohan Singh would be past 79, pushing 80 and may opt for a smooth exit.
“The third possibility is that Manmohan Singh lasts his full second term. At the ripe old age of 81, he decides to hang his boots and appeals to the people to give a chance to the next generation. Manmohan Singh’s sagacity combined with the charisma and vitality of Rahul Gandhi would make for attractive electoral branding — especially because by that time, it is unlikely that the BJP would undergo any major revival.”
But what if Rahul Gandhi, too, hears the “inner voice” like his mother did in 2004?
Photograph: courtesy India Daily
Read the full articles: A role for Rahul Gandhi?
Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia, smarter than Indira?