Ever since Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Singh Yadav declared war on the old guard in the Samajwadi Party and finally emerged victorious, a lot has been said and written about how Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi should emulate him.
After all, there are many similarities between the two Generation Next leaders.
Both Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi belong to the same generation and are products of dynasty politics. Like the Uttar Pradesh chief minister who wants to cleanse the Samajwadi Party of all unsavoury elements and project a modern and progressive image, Rahul Gandhi has also been battling the old guard in an attempt to give the Congress an image make-over by ushering in inner-party democracy through a process of internal elections.
And like Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi has also encountered stiff resistance from the vested interests in his party.
Despite these similarities, there are a host of reasons why Rahul Gandhi will not be able to follow in Akhilesh Yadav’s footsteps. This is despite the fact that unlike Akhilesh Yadav, who is battling his father Mulayum Singh Yadav for the control of the party, Rahul Gandhi has the full support of his mother, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who has virtually handed over all responsibilities to the Nehru-Gandhi scion.
While it is true that Sonia Gandhi is keen to hand over the reins of the party to Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president has been equally responsible for holding back his elevation as party chief. Known to be a cautious person by temperament, Sonia Gandhi has chosen to go along with her team members who have often advised her against Rahul Gandhi’s promotion on the plea she should wait for an opportune time for formal transition of power.
While Mulayum Singh Yadav was able to install Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister in 2012 without anybody in the Samajwadi Party questioning his decision, Sonia Gandhi has been unable to do so partly because of her nature and largely because of the Congress party structure. Unlike the family-owned Samajwadi Party, the Congress has built-in checks and balances and the leadership often finds it difficult to impose its decision by going against the mood in the party.
As a result, Rahul Gandhi has publicly reiterated on several occasions that he has no intention of sidelining the older leaders (meaning Sonia Gandhi’s team) as their experiences is an asset to the party. To some extent, the Congress vice-president has been forced to compromise with the old guard. Whether it was the constitutional crisis in Uttarakhand, the National Herald case or the party’s campaign against demonetisation, Rahul Gandhi has enlisted the help of Congress senior leaders like Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma.
Akhilesh Yadav, on the other hand, fought a bitter battle to wrest control of the Samajwadi Party and, in the process, also distanced himself from the musclemen who are known to be the party’s backbone. Not only has he emerged victorious in this internal battle, Akhilesh Yadav has also succeeded in emerging as a credible leader who wants to focus from identity politics to governance.
Rahul Gandhi also attempted to do the same. In 2013, in his zeal to reform the party and usher in a new brand of politics, the Congress vice-president publicly tore up a copy of an ordinance which negated a Supreme Court verdict disqualifying convicted lawmakers. But instead of helping him, Rahul Gandhi’s histrionics only ended up damaging his personal image and embarrassing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government which had approved the ordinance.
Akhilesh Yadav has clearly stolen a march over Rahul Gandhi. Unlike the Congress vice-president who has no experience in governance, having refused to join the Manmohan Singh government, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister has learnt the nuts and bolts of running a government after a five-year-stint as chief minister of the country’s most populous state. He may not have delivered on many counts but Akhilesh Yadav’s credibility has not taken a beating as it is popularly believed that the young chief minister was not allowed to have his way by his interfering father and uncle. In addition, Akhilesh Yadav possesses an amiable disposition which helps him emerge unscathed from tricky situations while Rahul Gandhi’s projection as an “angry young man” has only backfired on him. Most importantly, Akhilesh Yadav has the advantage of being fluent in Hindi and also a better communicator unlike Rahul Gandhi who has a long way to go before he can make an impromptu speech or take questions in Hindi. His delivery remains stilted while his body language and choice of words invariably makes him a butt of jokes.
Not only has Akhilesh Yadav projected himself as a leader capable of delivering on governance, he has also succeeded in winning the confidence of the party rank and file which has reposed faith in the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and recognised him as the future face of the Samajwadi Party. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi is yet to convince the Congress cadres that he is capable of reviving the party as there are lingering doubts about the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s leadership qualities.
The fact is that while Akhilesh Yadav has emerged as a leader in his own right, Rahul Gandhi is still struggling to get there.