April 22, 2015 12:00:28 am
Back from a nearly two-month-long sabbatical, Rahul Gandhi has spoken, in remarkably quick succession, at a party rally and in the newly reconvened Parliament. The subject of both public interventions — rural distress in general, and specifically the NDA government’s proposed amendments to the UPA’s land acquisition act — is a central concern of this moment, and one that demands greater discussion and serious deliberation. Yet, the fact that Rahul spoke at all has overshadowed what he said, and for that, he must bear much of the responsibility. At the Ramlila Maidan and in Lok Sabha, he broke a long silence that was as unexplained as it was inexplicable. That the Congress vice president — or its president-in-waiting — was missing in action, in the street and in the House, created needless scenarios of suspense and reflected poorly not only on him and his party, but also on the state of the Opposition.
Rahul’s speeches signal, at last, an acknowledgement that the Congress leadership needs to be seen and heard, that political communication is important and that reticence is not a good idea in an argumentative democracy. But given Rahul’s own record, the scion’s ghar wapsi does not settle all doubts. For one, he had earlier taken up and abandoned issues, in no particular order, in Bundelkhand, Niyamgiri and Bhatta Parsaul. While his speeches at Sunday’s rally and in the Lok Sabha on Monday promise to concentrate public attention on growing rural discontent, even as they help the Congress to climb back into the political arena, perseverance and follow-through will be key. Then, there is the crucial question of what the Rahul-led Congress has to say on the issue, the solutions or the roadmap it has to offer to the beleaguered farming community. While Rahul’s speeches have announced a more punchy style and the determination to press the charge of being pro-industry on the Modi government, they have suggested a worrying intent to drag the battle down to an unimaginative “rich vs poor” rhetoric that trades on contrived oppositions and antagonisms. There is also a tendency to speak to the past, not the future.
Rahul’s comeback may mean that the Congress finally gets a leader who is not reluctant to lead, but for the party, a difficult path lies ahead. It needs to deal with the challenge of organisational renewal, while holding the Modi government to account, and also updating its political shibboleths in a time of fast-paced change, with competition heating up in the opposition space. Rahul has spoken, and that is good, but he and his party have much to do.
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