Heir apparent

Rahul Gandhi is still not ready to take the next stepKC Alexander DelhiThe history of the Nehru-Gandhi family is not of much help for those looking for an answer to when Rahul Gandhi will be given more responsibility in the party. Indira Gandhi never left her father's side as soon as she came of age. Her entry into politics was seamless. She moved from one level to another, gaining experience and inheriting her father, Jawaharlal Nehru's enormous network of friends and supporters. Indira Gandhi learnt politics and leadership watching her father and other stalwarts of freedom struggle. Her leadership was natural and unquestioned. It does not surprise many who have known her when opinion polls still rate her as the best prime minister that India has ever had. Gandhi nurtured a special spot for her younger son, Sanjay, who came to support her when she found herself in a crisis. He built his own network of supporters who were non-ideological and thought politics was a good means to get ahead in life. They were aggressive and did not really think much of those who kept spouting values of the freedom struggle and self-reliance. He represented a new mindset and a new generation. Sanjay was made a general secretary and for a while controlled the party, with his mother taking a backseat. His untimely death rudely upset her plans. Her elder son, the reticent Rajiv, a pilot, started slowly and began to help his mother in her work. He was made the general secretary and began to meet with the captains of the industry and bureaucrats. The successful organisation of the Asian Games in 1982 helped in enlarging his network amongst bureaucrats and politicians. It also gave him much needed legitimacy and helped in creating the impression that Rajiv was a modern young man who could take India into the 21st century. This image endured till he became the prime minister after his mother's assassination. Rahul Gandhi, after he became a member of parliament (MP) from Amethi, was expected to follow his father's model of getting into politics. He was to be included into the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and later be made a general secretary of the party. After Sonia Gandhi began to revamp the party recently, the party was agog with anticipation that he would join the working committee. Later, there were carefully planted reports that his anointment would take place during Hyderabad plenary session. On the first day of the session, delegates pushed each other in their ardour to shake hands with Rajiv Gandhi. Also, there were demands from the delegates that he should be made to sit at the dais. Displaying competitive sycophancy, party activists screamed and shouted to catch Rahul's eye. After a great deal of persuasion, he agreed to speak to the delegates on the concluding date of the session. Many political observers read the slogan 'We want Rahul' as a no-confidence vote against the way the party is being run by his mother. In spite of being in power, the Congress has been on the retreat in all the key states. In the Hindi heartland it has become a bits player. What should worry the party leadership more is that its allies, too, are not benefiting by their association. Lalu Prasad Yadav and Shibu Soren lost the elections. In Tamil Nadu, too, there is no guarantee that DMK, another alliance partner, would win later this year.The demand for Rahul, besides the genetic servility displayed by congressmen towards the Gandhi family, was also a manifestation of desperation to get a vote catcher to help them revive their plummeting fortunes. In Bihar, Sonia Gandhi's rallies, even when done together with Lalu Prasad Yadav, did not get the crowds. Nehru-Gandhi family has always got crowds, even when some time they have not voted for them. Rahul when he got up to speak during the session made it clear that he was not ready for shouldering a larger role in the running of the party. There are suggestions that he could be made a minister in the government, the path taken by Indira Gandhi in her father's cabinet. He mentioned the issues troubling the party: 'Why is it doing so badly in the Hindi heartland which was earlier a Congress's stronghold?' He promised to devote time to help the party where it needed him. The message is obvious. Rahul is not ready yet and did not want to be a parallel power centre with his mother in the saddle. People who claim proximity with the family also suggest that he would like to sort out his personal life first, that means getting married with his reportedly Latin American girlfriend. A football enthusiast, he wants to witness the world cup in Germany later this year. Till then, maybe, the party and the government can wait.