Euphoria over Rahul Gandhi’s new role may be short-lived
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)
Rahul Gandhi has his work cut out as the new Congress vice president. His speech at the party’s brainstorming meeting on Sunday impressed fans and critics, but it probably is too soon to celebrate.
While he may be the best choice to take charge of the Congress campaign before the 2014 elections, state battles could remain outside his control. No matter how good the 42-year-old Gandhi might prove himself to be, prevailing in the nine assembly elections happening this year will be a tough sell.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is expected to retain Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, while electoral outcomes from the four states in northeast India are peripheral to Congress’s goals for the country at large. Gandhi will have to set his sights on Congress victories in Delhi, Rajasthan and Karnataka, but even then the task might prove too hard.
The biggest stakes are in the national capital where Sheila Dikshit has led the Congress to three consecutive wins since 1998. But her handling of the Delhi gang rape protests and perceived inability to ensure women’s safety in the city has diminished her popularity. Dikshit is still smarting from the party’s defeat in local corporation elections last year. Add to this tensions in the party’s Delhi unit, and Gandhi may have a real fight on his hands.
The other challenge is Rajasthan where the Congress government of Ashok Gehlot is facing dissent from within. The party faction close to CP Joshi, a minister in Manmohan Singh’s federal cabinet, has been at loggerheads with the chief minister. Infighting has hurt the party’s image and given the BJP reason to cheer. Gandhi will face a hard test there.
His best bet will be the southern state of Karnataka where infighting has seen three BJP chief ministers take charge in four years. Former BJP star B.S. Yeddyurappa has floated a new party, and may steal votes from the BJP. The Congress may have to deal with the question of leadership — who will spearhead its campaign here? There’s a campaign afoot to remove the party’s state president.
Will Gandhi be able to turn around the party’s fortunes by the end of 2013? Such a result in the state elections would silence critics who question his lack of political experience, but the task would be a rough one for any politician, even one with more experience.