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Jan 04, 2010, 11.16 AM IST | Source: Forbes India

Rahul Gandhi: A coming of age

Rahul Gandhi was dismissed as a political infant not long ago. But that assessment needs to change.

Rahul Gandhi: A coming of age

A person who knows how Gandhi works says that he operates through an informal executive council that includes his friend and aide Kanishka Singh, IYC president Ashok Tanwar, Mandsaur MP Meenakshi Natarajan, Alwar MP Jitendra Singh and NSUI president Hibi Eaden. “It is a consultative process, but there is no doubt on who takes the decisions,’’ he says.

During the Youth Congress elections in Jharkhand, the membership and election deposit became an issue because many who wanted to contest were too poor to afford even the small sum. Gandhi asked what should be done. “His advisors wanted to reduce the fee for the candidates in the state. But then, RG posed a counter question – How can we justify reducing the fee only in one state?” says the person.

While the intentions appear to be noble, politics in India is still a complex equation of caste combinations, religious issues and regional concerns. Alliances are often made in secret midnight deals with shady powerbrokers, businessmen, money and offshore accounts playing an inevitable part. It will take more than a well-intentioned Gandhi to change all that. “He knows that money and influence is still playing a role even in the organisational elections. He knows that he cannot change that overnight. But he wants to give it an honest shot,’’ says a person close to him. Gandhi’s strength is he understands the compulsions and is willing to slug it out in the long run on his own terms.

"He understands the issues very well and he seems genuinely concerned. However, I don’t think he still has any solutions,’’ says Lucknow-based journalist Sharad Pradhan, who interviewed him two years ago. Yet, he is willing to take risks. It was Rahul Gandhi who convinced the Congress Party leadership to contest the Lok Sabha elections in UP on its own earlier this year. Some say Digvijay Singh who was in charge of UP favoured tying up with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, though he denies it. “We were on the same page in UP,” Singh says.

Shailendra Singh sees the UP results as proof that the traditional caste-based politics can be broken if tickets are given to capable candidates. He says in this year’s polls, Gandhi did not interfere much in candidate selection but expects him to push at least 100 candidates from the youth brigade to contest in the assembly polls in 2012. One view is that he himself should become the chief ministerial candidate. “The Congress will sweep the elections if that happens,” says Pradhan.

Not so easily, says JNU’s Professor Pai. She points to the National Election Study 2009 by Lokniti that covered 2,900 voters. The voters preferred Mayawati to Gandhi as the next chief minister. Interestingly they preferred Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. Perhaps they prefer experience to youth. Or may be their insecurities are too high to hope for a change.

The young Gandhi still does not have the practiced rhetoric of a seasoned politician but has the determination and spirit. “He is a combination of his uncle (Sanjay Gandhi) and his father (Rajiv Gandhi). He has the drive and nobility,” says a person close to him. Another person says that Gandhi does not believe anyone without cross-checking, even if the person is very close to him. Sometimes his lack of experience shows such as when he talked about sugarcane farmers’ problems in Bundelkhand, an arid region where cane is not grown. But he more than made up for his gaffe. He impressed upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give a Rs. 7,000-crore package for Bundelkhand.

“Once he takes up an issue, the government has to listen,” says a senior Congress leader. He says that Rahul Gandhi meets the prime minister once every month where he discusses various developmental and economic issues.

So far Gandhi has played his cards well and has shown the characteristics of a different leader in the making. One who takes measured steps and calculated risks. He has shown a patient but independent mind. What is not known yet is how he will wield power, the ultimate test of a great politician. Right now, even the unbelieving seem to believe him. It remains to be seen whether they believe in him.

By: Dinesh Narayanan/Forbes India

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