I’ve chosen deliberately to write after Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to Congress president and before the Gujarat election results are announced. The first makes this pertinent whilst the second could render it irrelevant. So you have a brief window to consider my point.
Let me, however, add another caveat. I’m raising a theoretical question, not expressing disapproval.
Modi or endorsement of Congress. I’m raising an issue that might occur to tens or even hundreds of millions as they consider how they will vote in 2019.
Is accepting Rahul Gandhi as prime minister the price we have to pay for voting out Narendra Modi? I’ve put it bluntly to emphasise the dilemma I wish to point out. There are many who wish to see the back of Modi but are disturbed by the prospect of Gandhi as head of government.
Congressmen will not like this question. They will see it as prejudiced or, at least, unfair. Yet if they open their eyes to how Gandhi is perceived they will also realise this is an issue they need to grapple with and resolve before we vote in 18 months time. Otherwise many might desire a change of government yet feel unable to vote for Congress.
Now let me make a second point which could throw light on a possible answer. I’m not questioning Rahul Gandhi’s right to be Congress president and his elevation may well change the party’s fortunes. But does every Congress president have to automatically become prime minister? In Indira Gandhi’s and Jawaharlal Nehru’s time many did not. More pertinently, Sonia Gandhi brought Congress to power but refused to accept the prime ministership.
Could a repeat of the Sonia Gandhi- Manmohan Singh arrangement, announced well before the elections, remove the hesitation in the minds of those who want a change but are apprehensive of voting for Congress? I accept it’s difficult to name the individual who will play the Manmohan role but there’s also no need to do so at this stage. All that’s required is clarity that the dyarchy that prevailed from 2004 to 2014 will re-emerge if Congress wins in 2019.
Of course, this won’t be an easy decision for Rahul Gandhi. He’s been brought up to believe he will be prime minister and the fourth generation of his family to hold that post. To disavow it won’t be easy. But it would be a sign of greatness. For he would be putting party and country ahead of himself. Indeed, it would be an even bigger sacrifice than the one his mother made in 2004. Her Italian origin made her recusal not just understandable but, perhaps, necessary. Rahul, on the other hand, is as Indian as you and I.
One other thing: an announcement by Rahul that he won’t be prime minister could cast an emotional spell. To fight and win but not want the laurels of office is the sort of humility that reflects our cultural values. It could even alter the way Modi is perceived because thereafter, in contrast, his ambition might seem like hunger.
If I’m right, the question I’ve raised and the answer I’ve suggested could become more pressing with each passing month. But it’s also possible I’m wrong and the way we view Rahul might change so comprehensively that our apprehensions will simply fade away before 2019. Let’s see what happens.