Even though Rahul Gandhi has been a great hope for India’s Congress party, he has long been dismissed by the majority of the electorate as a disappointing politician, having so far failed to live up to popular expectations.
As India’s ruling party gears up to face an unpredictable general election next year, it has hardly any other candidate to field who fits the role of a prime minister apart from Mr Gandhi.
The question is, will the scion of India’s most prominent political dynasty be able to live up to the enormous expectations of the masses and bring the political reforms that Indians have been yearning for?
Mr Gandhi himself tried to provide the answer last week as he took a bold and impromptu stand against his party’s policy of tolerance towards convicted legislators.
Reacting to an ordinance that his own Congress-led UPA government attempted to bring to protect convicted legislators bypassing a Supreme Court ruling, he said: “My opinion of the ordinance is that it’s complete nonsense and that it should be torn up and thrown out.”
The message was loud and clear when Mr Gandhi, who became the party’s vice president earlier this year, said: “If we want to fight corruption in this country, whether it’s us – the Congress party – or the BJP [the opposition Bharatiya Janata party], we cannot continue making these small compromises, because when we make these small compromises we compromise everything.” Soon after that, Congress withdrew the order, which helped it to avert a disaster. It not only could have had a significant effect on the party’s electoral performance, but it could also have greatly diminished any hope for change.
Mr Gandhi’s statement reflected the popular sentiment against tolerance towards erring politicians. According to reports, more than 150 legislators in India’s 543-seat lower house of parliament are facing criminal charges, including rape, murder and kidnapping.
By daring to take a stand against the “wrong” practice within his organisation of shielding criminal politicians, Mr Gandhi has sent the right message. That is, he intends to fight a larger battle – beyond India’s heated political pitch.
Whether this is enough for him to lead the Congress to victory remains to be seen.