RG To Return As Congress Chief. Does Anyone Really Care?

Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, is all set for his return as Congress chief less than six months after he quit the same job, taking moral responsibility for the party's giant thud in the general election.

The Rahul re-run, which in the sycophantic Congress will be akin to the second coming of RG, is no surprise. Sonia Gandhi, who took over from her son as interim Congress president, has been clear that she's just filling in for RG.

Voters may have understandably lost track of the multiple Rahul relaunches, but the Congress - at least publicly - maintains a pretense of excitement at his leadership and at the Gandhi family remaining the glue that holds the fractious party together.

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Sonia Gandhi took over as interim president of Congress after her son Rahul Gandhi stepped down last year (File photo)

A series of public rallies have been planned in the run-up to Gandhi taking over again. Today was the first, a public meeting in Jaipur (where the Congress is in power) which was marked by huge preparations including 40-feet cut-outs of Gandhi. In an extremely short speech Gandhi tactically focused on the imploding economy and the huge jobs crisis. Gandhi cited the fact that employment generation is the lowest in 46 years. He focused on the youth and mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi's understanding of the economy, saying Modi does not understand the GST.

RG was pointedly silent on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which the Congress opposed in parliament and which Modi and Amit Shah, battling anti-CAA protests all over the country, want to make the centre-piece of divisive identity politics.

The Gandhi spiel today is the blue-print he is expected to follow in a series of public meetings scheduled across the country, especially in Congress-ruled states. Another rally is scheduled in Kerala later this week. Gandhi is elected to the Lok Sabha from Wayanad in the coastal state.

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Rahul Gandhi had resigned as party president last year after Congress's crushing defeat in national elections (File photo)

RG and his advisors have decided that he will stick to a strict script of bread-and-butter issues such as the economic collapse and unemployment. RG will not attempt to re-litigate the Rafale deal where he continuously alleged corruption of the Modi government through the campaign for the general election. Nor will he use his favourite slogan "chowkidar chor hai" to attack Modi. The jibe backfired big-time during last year's campaign and in fact, it's RG's earlier "suit boot ki sarkar" that resonated among the public at large. "We are fully aware of the anti-CAA protests but we don't want to give Modi and Shah even a divisive inch. Sonia Gandhi is not a memorable speaker and now RG will follow the same blue-print. No more controversies which the BJP is adept at spinning to its advantage", a senior Congress leader told me.

The plan is unlikely to cause any tremors. RG remains perceived as a fifth-generation dynast who, despite being a politician for nearly two decades, is incredibly inexperienced in administration with zero experience in government. The BJP loves pitting Gandhi against Modi in what becomes a no-contest. Also, RG is still a peripatetic leader who keeps disappearing for "me time", usually at the most inopportune moments, allowing him to be derided by the BJP as a work-shy - politician in contrast to the workaholic Modi and Shah.

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PM Modi with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (File photo)

I spoke to several Congress leaders for this column and the consensus is that they have no choice but to put their eggs (again) in the Gandhi basket. The Congress is now irretrievably Family First despite the fact that it is only doing well in states with strong leaders with a mass connect such as Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh.

The only consistent thing about Gandhi as a leader is his fully committed opposition to Modi. And most Congress leaders say this is worth something. "The entire country knows that Gandhi will never compromise with Modi and RSS and that's why he is trusted," claims a Congress General Secretary.

Sonia Gandhi has also forced a detente between her team of senior leaders like Ahmed Patel and RG's band who are referred to as the young guard but are now solidly middle-aged. Team Sonia has accepted RG and his coteries as the price of having the Gandhi family lead the party. Do expect politics as usual to continue with both camps sniping at each other.

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Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is Congress general secretary and party's in-charge of Uttar Pradesh

Apparently, the Congress, aware that it is a party in crisis is shying away from organisational elections and the contest that it would entail among party leaders. So Gandhi will return through a fiat issued by the party's highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

The glimmer of intra-party democracy that Gandhi had offered when he quit in July (last year) of a non-family member helming the party is clearly over. The Congress has gone back to predictable safety despite having crashed and burnt.

Besides Gandhi taking back his post, no other changes are expected in the party. The long wait for the younger leaders will continue.

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The Congress has been headed by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family for much of its 135-year history

Also, a division of labour has clearly been worked out in the Gandhi family with sibling Priyanka Gandhi Vadra focusing on rebuilding the party in Uttar Pradesh which is in her direct charge. A UP farmer's rally by her is slated for the first week of February in India's politically prized state. While RG was away at the height of the CAA protests (to Seoul, go figure), she served as a proxy for him by participating in a few dharnas and ensuring that she clarified she was doing it for her "leader". 

RG will soon turn 50 and the Congress hopes that as anger against the Modi government grows, his nth return to the party's centre will have greater traction.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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