When Decoding Rahul Gandhi went to press in July 2012, a bigger role for Rahul Gandhi was in the works. After months of speculation about designation and timing, the 42-year-old Rahul took over as Vice President of the Congress on 19 January, 2013. The long-awaited event happened at the Congress chintan shivir (brainstorming session) in Jaipur. It marked a decisive moment. If it was a personal milestone for Rahul, then it was no less momentous for the Congress. The baton had been passed to the next generation, the dynastic leadership tradition renewed.
For Rahul, it was also a moment of growing up. He was taking centerstage finally, eight years after he joined politics. In this period, he had been operating on the margins of politics as the All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India. He shied away from the day-to-day running of the Congress and articulating his views on important national issues. The irony of the situation was not lost on anyone – Rahul was no marginal man. As the chosen inheritor, he was the de facto number two in the Congress.
The Jaipur coronation altered all this, simply but inexorably. He was now accountable, not just powerful.
Towards the end of an emotional speech at Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi, Congress VP, showed he understood things had changed, quite literally, overnight. ‘…for me the Congress party is now my life. The people of India are my life,’ he said, sharing with an auditorium full of Congress leaders and workers, how he woke up in the wee hours of January 20 to a sense of ‘responsibility’ for all those ‘standing behind’ him.
The rank and file of the Congress will have big expectations of Gandhi in the days to come, not to mention the polity as a whole. The biggest is correcting the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government’s image deficit as he spearheads the party’s 2014 general election campaign. His performance will be a measure of how much he has learned in the many years he spent preparing for his new role.
Aarthi Ramachandran is a political journalist who has worked with leading Indian newspapers such as The Economic Times and Business Standard. She has written about the Congress for the past seven years and tracked Rahul Gandhi’s political career closely.