Half step up
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Will Rahul Gandhi's new role nudge him towards fuller engagement, more accountability?
Rahul Gandhi's taking charge of the Congress's election coordination could be a step towards ending the prolonged silence and speculation about his intentions and influence. This move, though belated, dispels some of the evasiveness and awkwardness of Gandhi's own positioning vis-a-vis party and government. And in a party with a longstanding darbari culture and tradition, it could also offer a measure of relief for Congressmen and women from their constant agony of second-guessing the leader — an especially paralysing syndrome when the leader is reluctant to call himself by that name. But for now, it looks more like the half-step that has been characteristic of Gandhi's mincing approach to politics.
Despite spending nearly a decade in politics, Gandhi seems uneasily poised on the threshold. He has sought to distance himself from, and claimed the right to critique, the "System" — though his sway over the Congress and consequently the government it runs has been impossible to deny. His stated intention to transform the party's structures of advancement through the Youth Congress may have been well-meaning, if ineffectual, but it has kept him from focusing on the real party — although that has not held back the party from taking up waiting-for-Rahul as a full-time occupation. When Gandhi studiously hung back on the margins, or entered situations halfway through, as in several state elections, he took no responsibility for the results; till now he has only borne the brunt for the party's tally in UP. He has rarely spoken up on matters that concern the government or intervened in crucial debates in Parliament. His new role will be meaningful for the party and its government, therefore, only if it establishes a clearer line of accountability, and compels him not just to enlarge and deepen his political engagement but also to finally weigh in on policy.