Friday, July 01, 2011

End of the road for Congress 'baby-boomers'?

P.Chidambaram's disarming confession he wants to read, write and travel tells a story


New Delhi: Congress leaders firmly say that there is no vacancy as far as the prime minister's post is concerned. Manmohan Singh is doing a fine job. They however cannot imply that party general secretary Rahul Gandhi is not a potential prime minister. They maintain a studied silence.


This has only fuelled speculation as to who would be next prime minister, if not now sometime later, if not in 2012 and 2013, then at least in 2014. That is why, party's another general secretary Digvijay Singh's open-ended statement that Rahul Gandhi would make a good prime minister, declaring that he is almost ready for the job.


But this has to be seen along with two other statements. More than a year ago, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told India Today correspondent in an interview that he would not be there in the next government and that he should not be expected to be there either. Then came the disarming confession of home minister P.Chidambaram to NDTV on an interview show that in the remaining years of his life he would not want to be a politician that he has been the last quarter century, and now he would like to do things he wants to do – read, write though he is aware that he is not as good as a writer as Arundhati Roy though she is extremely provocative in her views, and that he wants to travel.


There have been rumours, not completely unfounded, that Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Singh have been looking to become prime ministers. Their statements show that they have partly washed hands of their aspirations and dreams, though they are likely to assert that they never harboured such aspirations.


Mukherjee belonged to an earlier generation. He was a young man when Indira Gandhi picked him out and made him a minister of state for commerce in the early 1970s. He still rpoduly recalls that he was the youngest then. He was also a young finance minister under Indira Gandhi again in the early 1980s. When Indira Gandhi died, he thought that there was some chance for him. Even the thought set back his political career in a way.


Chidambaram and Singh belong to the Rajiv Gandhi generation. They came into their own, especially whe Rajiv became prime minister in the mid-1980s, and it seemed that after the tragic assassination of Indira Gandhi there has been a generation change. This was a generation that came of age in the 'swinging Sixties', to use the Western cultural chronometer, and can be nicknamed 'baby-boomers'.


The tragic end of Rajiv Gandhi in May, 1991 put the clock back when the spetuagenarian P.V.Narasimha Rao became prime minister. The late Arjun Singh had summed up the situation in a sombre and superb phrase when he said at the election of Rao as party leader, “We are trespassers in history.” After Rao, it was Singh, another septuagenarian , who took over as prime minister in 2004.


The Rajiv generation has missed the baton of leadership as it were. The realisation is now finding expression, and Chidambaram has stated it acutely when he said that the cabinet needs people who are in their late 40s and early 50s even as cabinet reshuffle is being planned.


As Rahul Gandhi and party president Sonia Gandhi do not seem to have yet decided on the issue, hope still lingers. Chidambaram and Singh, and even Mukherjee, might get to be prime minister.


If Rajiv Gandhi had his 'computer boys', Rahul has his 'baba log' like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jiten Prasada, but they are not yet in a positiont move up the Congress ladder until Rahul comes into his own.


Congress party seems to be caught in a space between generations, and part of the party's intellectual confusion could be due to this transitory phase.

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