Rahul Gandhi who is set to take over as the Congress president faces the challenge of reviving and rebuilding the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. (Catch LIVE updates here)
To execute his long-term plan, the 47-year-old’s first task will be a revamp of the party. Congress leaders suggest he would go for an overhaul, completing a generational shift in the 131-year-old party brought about by his elevation.
His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who took over as the party in March 1998, has served as the Congress chief for record 19 years.
He will have to ensure that the transition is smooth by striking a right balance between young leaders and the old guard, which in the past had some reservations about his style of functioning.
In his four years as the Congress vice-president, Gandhi had tried to open the party to end the heirloom politics but didn’t make much headway.
As party chief, the Amethi MP would have the authority to bring about the changes. His training in Aikido – Gandhi has a black belt in the Japanese martial that lays emphasis on harmony – will come in handy.
He also has to lead from the front to galvanise an otherwise demoralised Congress cadre struggling to recover after a series of electoral setbacks.
Gandhi has long had the reputation of a reluctant leader, though some analysts say he has displayed greater political acumen since the 2014 election defeat.
A good show in Gujarat, where he is leading an aggressive campaign and has attempted a broad coalition of disparate caste groups, will not only give him a good start but also silence his detractors within the party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state votes on December 9 and 14.
The Congress’ national fortunes hinge on its revival in states but intense infighting coupled with indecisiveness to address the leadership issues is coming in the way of the revival push.
The party desperately needs to get its house in order in key states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where it has ceded political space to rivals.
Reconnecting with the middle class, youth and common people who over the years have grown distant from the Congress has been on Gandhi’s agenda for a long time.
He has less than two years to make the Congress fighting fit to corner the BJP-led NDA government on critical issues and present it as in effective alternative.
With around 16 months left for the next Lok Sabha election, he will have to decide on alliances partners to prevent a division of the opposition vote that could help the BJP.
Stitching up alliances perhaps is his second biggest challenge after reviving the party.
Sonia Gandhi enjoys a good rapport with other opposition parties. Crediting her with bringing together the United Progressive Alliance, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury described the 70-year-old Sonia as the “glue” that bound the Congress as well as secular allies.
Rahul Gandhi will have to be the Congress president, the “glue” and more.