With the appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the head of Congress coordination committee which has been assigned to formulate strategy for the next general elections, the party has made it clear that he is the second in command in its organization. Meanwhile, it is also clear that the Congress has begun its preparations for next general elections. Soon after Rahul Gandhi was appointed the head of Congress coordination committee, the Samajwadi Party announced the names of its 55 Lok Sabha candidates posing a challenge to both the major political parties- the Congress and the BJP respectively.

However, the Congress, which is heading the UPA government at the Centre, has denied about any possibility of mid-term polls adding that the government will complete its full term. Though the present political scenario in the country indicates that snap-poll is likely to be held any time next year. After the split of Trinamool Congress with the UPA government, the Centre is however, surviving with the support of the SP and the BSP. Given this situation, the chances of early Lok Sabha polls cannot be ruled out. The UPA government at the Centre is technically in minority after the withdrawal of support from Trinamool.

In its recently concluded dialogue session at Surajkund, the party advised the Centre to fulfill promises of its manifesto at the earliest and adopt a policy which could offer a relief to the common people. It seems that the Congress has realized the fact that its government in its second innings could not rise up to the expectations of the ‘common man’. The party has also felt that the government’s decision to cap the number of subsidised LPG cylinders has given a heavy blow to the people. In the dialogue session, Defence Minister AK Antony expressed his displeasure over this issue. He contended that the Congress has always pursued a policy which is considered liberal and inclined towards left from centre. Why do the party’s policies go awry showing a rightist attitude? Though, Sonia Gandhi rejected any possibility of early elections, the developments like Rahul Gandhi acquiring a centre-stage in party’s poll management and decline in popularity of the government in the eyes of the people are fueling the speculations of early polls. Until now, it has been Sonia Gandhi who took care of poll management of the party. However, responsibility recently assigned to Rahul Gandhi does not seem to be new to him as he has been leading the party campaigns in the various elections for the past 2-3 years. It is quite natural for the Congress to believe, as the other parties do, its performance in the 2014 general elections will be as per its expectations, however, present political scenario seems to be against the ruling party.

As far as the enhanced role of Rahul Gandhi in the party is concerned, the Congress is expecting him to do miracles and this kind of expectation from him is quite natural. Rahul is young and he is full of enthusiasm. But his recent failure in ensuring victory of the Congress especially in UP assembly polls held in March this year, puts a question mark on his leadership capabilities and ability to assess the ground realities of states.
It is difficult to assess the administrative capabilities of Rahul Gandhi as he has not yet taken any post in the government. Prior to recent Cabinet reshuffle, it was speculated that he would be inducted in the government to give the UPA government a new edge, but it didn’t happen. One can raise so many questions on the abilities of Rahul Gandhi, but the fact should not be overlooked that he has been able to keep the Congress united despite all odds and he remains the only hope of the party in the present gloomy scenario. Even the tallest and mightiest leaders of the Congress find indispensability of Rahul leadership for the party’s growth. Undoubtedly Rahul owes responsibility to lead the party successfully in the coming elections and this will happen only if the Centre reassures the people to provide a clean, sensitive and responsive administration.
Rahul Gandhi being the head of the coordination committee on poll preparations of the Congress, the party has also formed three sub-committees in the wake of 2014 general elections. Moreover, the party is also going to send its observers to know the political ground realities in different states. It is most likely that the Congress would announce its Lok Sabha candidates by March next year. It is seen that national parties lag behind the regional parties in announcing the names of party candidates because the chances for any sort of dissent in a regional party are quite rare. On the contrary, announcing the names of their party candidates always seems to be a tough exercise for the Congress and the BJP. The Congress must realize the fact that its candidates get comparatively lesser time to work among electors in their respective constituencies owing to delay in announcement of candidates. It is important to see whether the situation improves after the appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the head of party’s coordination committee on poll campaign strategy. Though, the umbrella of Gandhi family is the biggest strength to the party and there is no dissent over the leadership of Gandhi family. The fact cannot be ignored that no other party is as much blighted by internal factionalism as the state units of the Congress are. There are many senior leaders in the state units of the Congress who have intense dislike for each-other. if the party’s central leadership takes a final call in nominating party candidates, the decision fails to gain support at ground level. In past years, this is the main factor behind sharp decline in the mass support of the Congress. The BJP too faces a similar situation. On the contrary, the regional parties are largely safe from such factionalism despite the fact that most of them are being run as a private enterprise.

As far as the Congress Party is concerned, its history is over hundred years old. But the party is still fully dependent on the leadership of Gandhi family to win elections which suggests that the party is far away from internal democracy. Factionalism in the state Congress units put a question mark on the capabilities of the Congress leadership. It also underlines the need for establishing internal democracy within the party in true sense and Rahul Gandhi owes a responsibility to take certain specific measures in this direction. It is quite strange that Rahul Gandhi always seems to be very active for internal democracy in his party, but no affirmative result of his efforts has come to the fore. It is yet to see how he succeeds in keeping the senior party leaders together. No doubt, if he succeeds in doing so, it will be a feather in his cap and the Congress too will be able to handle the challenges which are presently threatening it now and then.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on November 18, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)