Indian National Congress, the largest secular party of India looks all set to make Rahul Gandhi, the son, successor and replacement of incumbent President Sonia Gandhi who sat in the post for the long term from 1998 to 2017. When the other day 90 nominations were filed for him in Congress's internal electoral process, and in the absence of any other nomination, the deck is cleared for him to assume the party's leadership. All that remains is the formality of declaring the result on 11 December, fulfilling the regulations of the Election Commission. At the same when the Congress Party which is entering its 133rd year is going to have Rahul as its 62nd president, it would be more correct to say that Rahul is president-designate of the party called Indian National Congress (Indira). That way, it may take wind out of the sail of the allegation that the party is a monopoly of the Nehru family. For a party that Indira Gandhi had formed through a split, her grandson may be a suitable candidate to be its president. And when the Congressmen have themselves decided that a member of the Nehru family itself is needed to lead the party in the current circumstances, that may be taken as their internal matter. Even otherwise, when someone other than from the Nehru family, PV Narasimha Rao, took the reins of the party following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and the Congress encountered internal dissension and desertion, it took the assumption of leadership by Rajiv's Italian-born wife Sonia as President in 1998 to arrest that process.
Although extremist Hindutva forces had opposed a foreign woman becoming the president of a party ruling the country, the country by and large had ignored that. Following Sonia's falling into into health, when Rahul Gandhi became the party's vice president, there were allegations within the Congress and outside that he was not taking his position and responsibilities seriously. And there were critical occasions for definite decisions to be taken when Rahul either went for stay abroad or was absconding. Questions were raised from political observers, the media and the public alike what the immature Rahul would be capable of doing at the face of the fierce and bellicose onslaughts by the Hindutva brigade led by Amit Shah, Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagvat. It had even come to a stage when there were calls from the Youth Congress to replace this 'little boy' with sister Priyanka. But finally when Rahul himself entered the fray and proved himself determined to reshuffle the party and to make it capable of facing the challenges, that paved the way for his being nominated and his acceptance of the post.
Despite the shortfalls, setbacks and failures alleged in it, Congress is the only secular democratic force with roots in all states of India. Though the party did have to face an unprecedented defeat in the 2014 elections and it is now left with only a handful of states in its power, the fact to note is that the majority of the 62 per cent of the country's pro-secular voters are still the Congress. Therefore, the first challenge before the party's leadership would be to identify this key factor as the party's chief asset and to achieve the mobilization and co-ordination of secular votes by making the required concessions to make it possible. The major strategy successfully executed by Sonia Gandhi on her assumption of presidency was the integration of all secular parties including regional parties and splinter ones, forming the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and implementing the formula of having a single candidate against Hindutva party. The positive outcome of that was the secular government that ruled India from 2004 to 2014 for which she ensured the support from outside of the left forces. And Sonia even stunned all of a sudden the right-wing forces who had made an issue of her Italian birth, by making Dr Manmohan Singh, an Indian and economist with no taint of corruption, the prime minister.
Rahul has a lot to learn from his mother's statesmanship. At the same time, he has to recognize the role of the Manmohan regime's corporate-placating economic measures and its pro-US foreign policies in the fall of UPA. He should equally be alive to the steady dent in popularity of the Narendra Modi government which has been following those same policies with redoubled force. Demonetization and the GST reform that followed it were not the real disease but only the symptoms of the disease. The people of the country are now suffering the disastrous consequences of a popular government's knee-bending before corporate giants who had gained irresistible strength. Rahul has to plainly declare that this policy will be radically revised. And the Congress also has to display a determination to restore Indian secularism which is being brutally tortured. In the ultimate analysis, the rebirth of Congress hinges on the ability of Rahul Gandhi to take it forward ensuring the support and co-operation of all party forces beyond groups.