Agenda for Rahul: Target rural poor and disillusioned youth

By Ravi M. Khanna, IANS,

Now that Rahul Gandhi has made a crucial decision to continue his work in the Congress party and not join the government, he should consider the millions of Indians who have been waiting to be benefitted by the country’s economic reforms as his own “constituency”. He can use their “angry impatience” to create a “forceful impetus” to push their cause within the Congress.

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The time has come when Gandhi can disprove his critics who say that he has an ill-defined urge to improve the lives of poor Indians, but no real idea of how to do so, that he feels obliged to work in politics, but his political strategies are half-baked, and he fails to develop strong ties with any particular constituency. He should rise to the occasion and claim that his constituency includes millions of Indians who are impatiently waiting for the Congress’ economic reforms to better their lives.

In fact, Gandhi should realize that today there is a glaring vacuum in the country’s political leadership, a scenario where no political party has a leader who genuinely cares about the so-called “aam aadmi” or the common man of India. Indians do not find any honest leader in any political party who would do something to reach out to the people who have been anxious for years to benefit from the economic development brought in by the economic reforms. So Gandhi can pick up the thread from where his father, Rajiv Gandhi, had to leave it when he was slain more than two decades ago.
Now Rahul Gandhi should further his father’s quest to modernize India and at the same time provide leadership to millions of Indians who are waiting for the proverbial trickle down of the benefits of globalization, liberalization and privatization. He can feel their impatience and use it to ignite some passion and compassion in the Congress before the 2014 parliamentary polls.

Although Gandhi’s critics contend that he should have taken a place in the cabinet so that if his party wins election in 2014, he could claim some experience in the working of the government, some analysts say his refusal to do so, and be held accountable for the working of the government, could prove to be a weakness when the time comes to face the electorate. They contend it would have helped Gandhi’s own credibility if he had taken over a ministry where he could have shown results and enabled his party to give examples of his good work to the voters in the next election.

But this analyst believes that Gandhi can prove that he made the right decision if he can create an honest relationship with the grassroots and genuinely work within his own party for the cause of the rural poor and the country’s disillusioned youth. He has already declared that rural development and bringing India’s disillusioned youth are his main agenda, and now he should work hard on getting his party to adopt the two policy pillars as the basic plank for the next election.

His critics repeatedly cite his last election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, which they say was a failure simply because his Congress could not win the state. But they forget that the first logical step was to dislodge a deeply entrenched and allegedly corrupt chief minister, and Gandhi’s campaign in the state did contribute to at least some extent in bringing Mayawati down.

His recent efforts to reach out and touch the youth of Kashmir by taking along with him India’s top business tycoons such as Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Ashok Reddy, Rajiv Bajaj and Deepak Parekh should be applauded. Whatever his critics might say about the trip, there is a need for the common man in Kashmir to realize that the hardliners within themselves are depriving him and his region of the benefits of the rapid economic development being achieved by the rest of India.

So Rahul Gandhi should now position himself within the Congress as the defender of the “aam aadmi”. He will have to demonstrate to the Indian masses that he has become a positive force within his Congress and that he can change the party from within to help India’s poor and the disillusioned youth.

And he should not forget that as he works on getting his agenda included in his party’s plank for the next elections, he will also strengthen his party’s support for himself – and will become an automatic choice for the coveted post of prime minister.

But for all this he must remember that he is like an elephant stuck in the marshland of Indian politics where even his own party is full of ruthlessly selfish opportunists who have no scruples or principles and can prove him to be as “politically naïve” as his father Rajiv Gandhi seemed to be, when he was also surrounded by such opportunists.

(2-11-2012 – Ravi M. Khanna is a long time South Asia observer who has headed the South Asia Desk in the Voice of America Newsroom in Washington. The views expressed are personal and not of IANS. He can be reached at [email protected])