The process of formalising the foregone has begun with Rahul Gandhi filing his nomination papers for election as president of the nation’s grand old party. With only one set of nomination papers filed, Rahul Gandhi’s declaration as Congress president on December 11 is a mere technicality. His de facto leadership of the party since his elevation as vice-president is now de jure. Passing of the baton of leadership to the sixth scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family is expected to herald transformative changes in the organisation and arrest its decline since 2014 as India’s premier political party. His elevation as the party’s boss is expected to identify the organisation with the aspirations of a modern, progressive and democratic India.
With the growing national disenchantment with the BJP, the need for an urgent and clear political alternative is deeply felt. In this context, Mr Gandhi faces the daunting challenge of restoring the Congress to its pre-eminence and to repel a frontal assault on the republican conscience of India. This would require of him leadership of the head and heart that inspires both the respect and affection of the people.
The president-designate will be called upon to make difficult choices between what is right and the demands of momentary political exigencies. While taking necessary decisions in the Gandhian tradition which he has pledged to uphold, he must constantly remind himself that what is morally incorrect can’t be politically right. He must remain steadfast in adherence to principles than yield to the temptation of short-term political gains. Indeed, his leadership must “spring from a compulsion to do what is right”, investing him with moral authority to muster the support of people across the nation. He must benefit from Mahatma Gandhi’s advice that a leader is measured “by the purity of his life, unselfis-hness of his mission and breadth of his outlook”. Rahul Gandhi’s strength will lie in his steadfast adherence to idealism despite the repeated assertions of the practitioners of realpolitik in favour of political “pragmatism”.
In his judgment of people, he must discern between those who honestly express the truth and those who are frugal with it. Mr Gandhi needs to encourage dialogue, discussion and contestation of ideas without fear of political repercussions for those who choose to express conscientious dissent in the face of contrarian views. This would require easy accessibility to the party president so that he may benefit from a wide range of views for decision-making. Like his father, he should be loved and not feared.
A young president will assume the party’s leadership, and hopefully eventually of the nation at a time when the core values of the republic are under siege. The institutions of our libertarian and dignitarian democracy are under stress. The liberal conscience of the country, where freedom remains an “unending frenzy”, is wounded as never before. Casteist, communal and regional considerations along with social and economic inequities have resulted in a fractured polity. The challenge before Rahul’s Congress Party is, therefore, to become an instrument to bridge these divides and redefine the rules of political engagement. For starters, he must raise the level of public discourse and set an example for others to follow as he did during his vigorous campaign in Gujarat and elsewhere. Mr Gandhi must become a symbol of leadership that is powered by selflessness and an unswerving commitment to the cause of national renewal.
As leader of the nation’s umbrella party, he needs to embrace the moderate centre and shun ideological extremes. His endeavour should be to locate the larger purposes of politics in the dignity and esteem of our people. His leadership should be about bonding that offers hope for the marginalised. He should become the interlocutor to awaken the nation’s will and take the lead to accomplish it. In this task, the nation must wish him well.