News Analysis | Congress signals return of Rahul Gandhi to a pivotal role as it heads into new year

Leaders close to the former party chief argue that he stepped down to ensure ‘accountability’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll debacle but has not ruled out the possibility of a return to the post

The return of Rahul Gandhi. Depending on the context, it could well be about his former Lok Sabha constituency, Amethi, where he held an impressive padayatra against inflation on Saturday. Or about taking back the reins of the party and lead the charge against the ruling BJP.

If 2021 witnessed Congress’ group of 23 reformists pushing the boundaries by stating that “our party doesn’t have a full-time president”, loyalists of the Gandhi family have also raised their pitch for Mr. Gandhi to become the chief once again.

The election schedule to elect a new president by September 2022 has already been announced but it is not clear if Mr. Gandhi would be a presidential candidate.

Leaders close to the former chief argue that he stepped down to ensure ‘accountability’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll debacle but has not ruled out the possibility of a return as the party chief.

At a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on October 16, when several members urged him to take over, Mr. Gandhi said he would ‘consider it’ but sought ‘ideological clarity’ on key issues.

He cited the example of the 2015 lynching of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq at Dadri, barely 50 km from Delhi, and pointed how he wanted to visit his family but many in the party had reservations.

Standing up for Mohd. Akhlaq’s family was the right thing to do but the ‘fear’ of being labelled as a party given to ‘minority appeasement’ may have led many to adopt a different course.

“The feeling of being a Hindu comes from within and inspired by love and fearlessness. One who doesn’t have love and has fear can’t be a Hindu,” Mr. Gandhi said while addressing a rally at Amethi on Saturday.

This assertion by the Congress leader is as much a direction to his colleagues in the party on its political line as it is about taking on the BJP on its turf.

On December 12, addressing a public rally against price rise in Jaipur, Mr. Gandhi asserted that a Hindu believed in satyagraha’ (holding onto truth) while a Hindutvawadi believes in ‘sattagrah’ (holding onto power).

The Congress leader now worked out a strategy that uses the terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindutva’ as binaries.

“On one side is Hindu. On the other side is ‘Hindutvawadi’. On one side, there is truth, love and non-violence and, on the other, falsehood, hatred and violence,” he noted.

Taking a dig at the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to Varanasi, Mr. Gandhi said, “A ‘Hidutavawadi’ bathes alone in the Ganga but a Hindu will bathe with crores of others”.

But as the Congress signals the return of Mr. Gandhi to a pivotal role while heading into a new year, it should also factor in the need to be consistent. The challenge to Congress leadership is from within as well as outside, with three-term West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee positioning herself as the main challenger in the Opposition space.

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