‘Rahul in deep anguish over present situation’ (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 4th Apr 2015
Sources close to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi say that his absence from the political scene is because of "deep anguish" over the present situation in the party and the country, and that it is this "upwelling of emotions", which has led to Rahul's current retreat from not only politics but his social life as well. They say that the Congress veep "regards it as a disaster that a supercharged BJP under Narendra Modi secured a majority in the Lok Sabha" and that "since 16 May 2014 (when the results of the Lok Sabha polls got declared), Rahul Gandhi has been going through an intense period of introspection, focusing within himself for long periods of time on just how and why the (poll) defeat happened". They say that this "deep introspection" is the reason for the Congress party's Heir Apparent's exceptionally scanty appearances in the political arena after the BJP-led government took office last year.
"Last October, following the shock collapse in Haryana and the miserable showing in Maharashtra, Rahul's already present periods of self-introspection deepened, and he spent long periods of time mulling over what went wrong and what his party could have done to avoid such a fate". According to these sources, Rahul is "privately unhappy" with some of the party leaders close to Sonia Gandhi, and "regard their wrong advice as the reason for serial Congress losses". They add that this is why "Rahul has been insistent that the Congress should go through a makeover as comprehensive as those undertaken by Indira Gandhi in 1969 and 1978, subsequent to which she won impressive victories, despite starting with a disadvantage". However, these sources say that Congress president Sonia Gandhi is not in favour of a purge in the party as comprehensive as these earlier episodes, and would like "all groups to be taken on board, both the old and the new".
These sources say that "throughout what has been the Congress vice-president's intense crisis of confidence in his party's direction and perception of remedies", Sonia Gandhi has been a "warm and supportive mother", spending long hours with her son and reassuring him about the future. They say that Rahul's sister Priyanka Vadra too has been "an amazing source of support" to a political leader seemingly riddled with questions about the past and the future, and that both "Sonia Gandhi as well as Priyanka Vadra have been the reason why Rahul has not yet acted on his desire to leave politics entirely". They add that both mother and sister "are the only individuals who understand Rahul Gandhi fully" and who "have almost daily shown a level of love and concern (for the Congress veep) that does them both credit".
The implication of such comments (that both his mother and his sister are in frequent contact with the Congress vice-president) indicates that Rahul Gandhi is not abroad as has been speculated, but within the country, most likely in the vicinity of the national capital. These sources said that "of course the SPG is aware of where Rahul is" and that they would have informed the Prime Minister's Office about the same. They gave high marks to Prime Minister Modi for his "sensitivity in keeping information (on Rahul's introspection and whereabouts) secret", despite the fact that releasing details either directly or through leaks would have been to the political benefit of the BJP. "It must be said that the Prime Minister has acted in a principled manner" in the matter of the Congress vice-president's absence from the political arena, during the recent Parliament session, at a time of high tension between the NDA and the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament. They warn that "it is not certain" that Rahul will end his period of deep introspection before Parliament reconvenes on 20 April, as "the issues being debated in his mind are of a complex nature that admit to few simple solutions". They say that Rahul Gandhi is a "deeply caring individual, who suffers genuine agony at the fact that poverty is still so ubiquitous in India despite seven decades of freedom from British rule".
Among the reasons given for Rahul's retreat into deep introspection is his "disgust at the way in which even those much senior to him in age and experience such as Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony behave towards him", acting "as though they were his subordinates rather than his being very much their junior in every way". They claim that "several times, Rahul has talked to his close friends about the sycophantic culture pervading politics in the country and how he wants an atmosphere in which only merit, and not birth, counts". They add that Rahul has been distressed by the way in which his efforts at promoting inner-party democracy and a culture of equality in the Congress have been blocked by key confidants of the Congress president. Should Rahul finally decide to take up the reins of the Congress, "it is likely that within the next two years at most (well before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls) he will ensure a complete change in personnel and approaches" within a party that has lately shown signs of regaining some of its old popularity. However, they add that as yet Rahul "has not definitely decided to return to the political arena". In such a situation, Priyanka Vadra may fill the vacuum created by such a withdrawal from political activity. She is known for her charismatic appeal and "for backing the same strong anti-NDA stand advocated by her brother", and could emerge as a formidable competitor to the BJP leadership, should there be public discontent with the performance of the BJP-led government, as is lately being manifested in some parts of the country.
These sources say that "it is still an open question as to whether Rahul will heed the advice of those who seek his return to active politics", or (in their words) "heed his inner voice and once and for all leave a field that is so denuded of idealism". Whatever his decision, "it is likely to be announced before the coming session of Parliament ends", and that "in any case, it will still be the Family in charge of the party, this time in the persona of Priyanka Vadra", who, they claim, will assist Sonia Gandhi in seeking to manage a comeback for the Congress, while Rahul assists "with advice and understanding for his mother and sister". Dismissing reports of a rift within the family, these sources say that Rahul and Priyanka are "on the same page" where the Congress is concerned, and that lately, "Sonia Gandhi has been heeding the advice of her children", rather than solely relying on the traditional politicians who have been close to her and have guided her decisions since she entered active politics in 1998.