about his public image or political legacy.
But the episode last Friday raises serious questions about the political strategy of Rahul Gandhi. Rahul has for long toyed with the option of either succeeding Manmohan Singh or dethroning him. Part of the problem with the second Manmohan Singh government has been this confusion. Should the Rahul loyalists praise the government and inherit their success or criticise the government and grab the reins?
Some media commentators have drawn a parallel with Indira Gandhi’s revolt against the Congress Syndicate and Rajiv’s own attacks against the “party bosses”. The parallels don’t work. Indira mobilised the party’s “Young Turks”, socialists and communist fellow travellers to seize power from the entrenched power brokers of the party organisation. Though Nehru’s daughter, she was an outsider in the party hierarchy. Rajiv’s criticism of the party old guard in 1985 came after he became PM, when he had power and responsibility to act. Rahul is an insider, in more senses than one. Yet, he has tried to project himself as an outsider.
This contrarian strategy was first revealed in his address to a group of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2009, when he said, “The hierarchical system exists (in Congress). It is a reality. But what is the option before me? I can either propagate the system or change it. I am not the one to propagate it so I am trying to change it. You do not like the system; even
I do not like it. We have to work together to change it.”
In itself, this is not a wrong strategy to adopt. But an agent of change can build on his inheritance rather than seek to rubbish it. You can be a John Major to a Margaret Thatcher or a Kevin Rudd to a Julia Gillard. The electorate rewarded Major and punished Rudd. It requires great sophistication and maturity to provide leadership to a transition without undermining the image of the predecessor.
Unfortunately, for Rahul, many around him chose the ill-advised path of mocking the PM and blaming him for all the party’s errors of judgement and acts of