Arindam Chaudhuri
Does Rahul Gandhi have a great indian dream? Will he become a great leader ever?
[March, 2008]

These are questions which must be top-of-the-mind for anyone who is even slightly politically conscious or committed. For merit or otherwise, the leadership of the largest serving party of independent India is being thrust upon this man. The big question is – will he be able to deliver ever? For, given the way the Indian political scenario is taking shape – with regional parties replacing national parties at the state level – if Rahul fails to deliver, it might take the party a few decades more to regroup and regain its position. In the framework of this context, it was indeed heartening to read Rahul's latest views on reviving the Congress party. For the first time, someone could openly say that the party lacks inner party democracy and that the high-command system must give way – issues all Congress supporters and detractors have always been critical about. Probably thanks to his status of being the son of the dynasty, Rahul could say what everyone has always felt, but never dared to say. But that shouldn't take away anything from the credit he deserves.

Let me, however, first begin on a critical note about the problem with Congress' leadership over the years. One would remember how, during the past elections, while Pramod Mahajan used to go out scouting for 'fresh blood' and 'talent' (as per whatever his arguable definitions of these were), the Congress rested upon the Gandhi dynasty and newer dynasties being created within the party (the Scindias, Jindals, Deoras etc). While the Congress started off as a very democratic party, the fact is when Indira Gandhi – though extremely able – took over the mantle, the seeds of dynastic rule got sown. Though it's a well researched and proven argument that children who grow up in close families seeing dynamic and visionary leadership within the family, often have the edge when it comes to doing the same job, it's still hard to believe that in 60 years, the party couldn't find any leader outside one family. Then, of course, is the fact that the way Indira saw Nehru leading from close quarters – and got influenced and thus could deliver as a great leader – was never the case with Rajiv Gandhi, who never really got to see his mother Indira in action from an involved distance. And now, worse is the case with Rahul. That's why with time, the dynasty has only led to deteriorating leadership standards. Indira was the last leader in the Congress who really delivered; and it never felt even once that allowing a daughter to take over the party's leadership was uncalled for. But with Rajiv – despite him being my personal favourite Indian politician – the leadership quality dropped. Nonetheless, the cleanliness and honesty written all over his face, his personal charisma and very polished communication power, coupled with the circumstances which brought the unwilling pilot to power, made people yet again overlook the fact that the largest party of the largest democracy of the world was clearly becoming undemocratic and dynastic.

To that effect, Sonia's entry into politics has been more due to the party's inefficiency in delivering an able leader, making them fall back upon the dynasty. Rahul's political sojourn, however, is the most debated climb up the ladder. Those who have seen or heard him speak don't see a powerful communicator in him (one of the most essential qualities of a good leader). Neither has Rahul seen any great leadership within the family from close quarters to have had inherited any of that. So, it looked fair to argue that all he has inherited is the dynastic surname. Well, that's what it almost looked like till one started hearing his stray comments on corruption in the Indian system, reminding one of Rajiv's historically bold statements like the one about how only 15% of money being spent by his government was reaching the people it was intended for.

Be that as it may be, the single recent comment by Rahul about the lack of inner party democracy within the Congress has clearly proven that though he may not have inherited what he didn't see – viz, great leadership – or for that matter, what he didn't get enough years to imbibe within himself, namely, his father's charismatic communication style, Rahul surely has inherited something much more than the Gandhi name. He has inherited what he saw in his father and what he read most about him – he has inherited Rajiv's honest way of looking at things, the ability to speak on issues openly and the willingness to try and change things. For starters, that's a great sign for this Gandhi. Because, if communication skills are most important for a leader, then being principled and honest are most extremely important. So while Rahul might have lost some points till now on various fronts, he looks to be scoring well on the most critical traits that define a good leader.

However, leadership is about much more than just making heartfelt honest comments to a few mediapersons. And I sincerely hope Rahul doesn't stop at this. He must look at this as the first run scored as the opener in a Test match. He has a long way to go before he scores a century, looks at bigger records and eventually wins the match for his team. He must be open to learning; and right now, I will give him only one tip. He must see videos of Rajiv Gandhi's speeches and interactions with world leaders at world forums. He will know the definition of what is a world-class and cultured style of communication. If he can imbibe that and say the same things effectively to millions, he would score his first half century. Unfortunately, in India, a half century (and often much lesser) is good enough to get the Prime Minister's seat as well! If Rahul wants to score a century and more and secure a great future for himself and his party, there are some great books on leadership that he might well learn from. It will be a shame if a man with honest intentions, upon whom such a great opportunity is being thrust, fails to deliver. For him, I would personally love to share many more ideas about great leadership through these columns of mine... but only if I am sure that he is really serious about making the Great Indian Dream a reality! The question is, does he really have a Great Indian Dream? Or is it that like most others, even his is only a myopic vision of fulfilling his own short run dreams? Time will tell...
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