Finally, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has decided that he is here to stay. During the Karnataka poll campaign, he announced that he would be the Congress party’s candidate for prime ministership if his party emerges as the single largest one in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Certainly, he has walked a long way in the past five years from his own analogy of “satta zahar hai (power is poison)” statement.
However, for Rahul Gandhi, the route to 7 Lok Kalyan Marg (LKM) goes through several other states; here, there’s no shortcut from 24 Akbar Road. More importantly, it’s a long climb from 44 MPs to 272 and conventional wisdom has it that Congress will need the help of allies to put Rahul Gandhi in the PMO.
Rahul Gandhi has been working overtime to reach out to sympathetic allies. Last week, he did a rather public U-turn on his earlier stance against tainted politicians when he called on the jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Yadav while he was at the AIIMS. The outreach worked, for the RJD was the first to welcome Rahul Gandhi’s
Party Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha said, “RJD believes that there is nothing wrong if Rahul Gandhi says that if INC becomes the single-largest party, he is ready to become the PM. Of all the players at the national level, the Congress has the maximum footprint.”
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have not commented on Rahul Gandhi’s latest ambition; both Akhilesh Yadav and Sharad Pawar have a cordial equation with him. Immediately after the BJP lost two bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi had called on Sharad Pawar and his daughter Surpiya Sule in March. While most of the senior leaders of NCP declined to comment on Rahul Gandhi’s PM ambitions, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik made it clear that Sharad Pawar is out of race.
Rahul Gandhi’s main problem will not be allies like the RJD, NCP, SP and National Conference (NC), but instead, those regional satraps who nurture prime ministerial ambitions of their own, such as Mamata Bannerjee or even TRS chief Chandresekhar Rao.
TMC RS MP Sukhendu Shekhar Rao hedged his answer, saying: “Whether it’s Rahul Gandhi or any other leader, until or unless he is put on a job, how can his success and failure be judged.” But what he did not say is that unlike Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Bannerjee has a proven track record and certainly rates her claims higher than the Congress chief’s.
She has also been hobnobbing with other regional satraps to put together a non-Congress, non-BJP federal front.
Both she and the TRS chief have reached out to Naveen Patnaik, M.K. Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray, Akhilesh Yadav, Shibu Soren, Dushyant Chautala and Deve Gowda. These attempts, if realised on the ground, will prove detrimental to the Congress president’s prospects.
The Congress’ political resolution for 2018 mentions that it will reach out to like-minded parties for an alliance in 2019, but the Congress is yet to start the process. Rahul also understands the fact that without allies, his attempt to reach 7 LKM may well prove to be a futile exercise unless he can convince others of his credibility.
The result of the Karnataka election will certainly decide which way the wind will blow in 2019. Apart from this, there are three others states which will go to polls by the end of this year, and where there will be a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP.
These are bound to turn into a Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi semi final for 2019. If Rahul Gandhi notches a credible score, then he has a chance of convincing other allies of his credentials of taking on the PM in the 2019 battle. If not, then well, he may as well shift his prime ministerial goal post to 2024 and let some other leader with heft take on Modi.