Who says those born with a silver spoon in their mouth always end up with an advantage? If you turn the pages of world history, you’ll discover that people expect those born in renowned families to perform and conduct themselves better in public life than others. Not just this, the burden of living up to the family legacy is placed on their shoulders. This burden, which stays with them as long as they are alive, often ends up impeding their growth.

Take Rahul Gandhi. His critics have been saying that as soon as he was born, it was clear that he was destined to become the president of the Indian National Congress. While saying this, an impression is given out that the mountain of expectations on him is too big for him to handle. He has to constantly compete with the reputation of three illustrious prime ministers who are his ancestors. When you are compared to an outsider, you can speak your mind about them. But what does the person do when he is being compared to his father, grandmother and great grandfather? This is why I’ve always believed Rahul Gandhi’s road ahead has been more challenging than others. Heading a pluralist party such as the Congress has been like a trial by fire for him.

One year ago he had taken over the party’s reins as president. Having won three states in the Hindi heartland, those who were criticizing him are seeing him in a new light today, but Rahul has struggled hard to reach here.

Rewind to 2004. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time from Amethi. It had been 13 years since his father’s death and, during this period, a number of efforts had been made to make his family give up politics. Those who longed for a momentary glance from his father and grandmother till yesterday were today resorting to opposing the family. During his five-year stint as prime minister, Narasimha Rao tried to extend his stay and old faithful Sitaram Kesri began to nurture personal ambitions. Kesri, aka chacha, once told me: “The Nehru-Gandhi family is like the sun.

You’ll get scorched if you get too close to it and you’ll die of cold if you stay too distant." It was a difficult period. Those nearing the age of retirement had developed a greed for power and young party members had got disillusioned with the Gandhi family.

After Rao’s five-year term, Atal Bihari Vajpayee made an entry into 7, Race Course Road. For Congress workers, there was just one solution to emerge from this disappointment: Approach the Gandhi family. Though Sonia Gandhi had never displayed any ambition, Congress workers knocked at her doors. The next election brought with it renewed hope. Along with Rahul’s debut, the United Progressive Alliance led by Sonia Gandhi assumed pole position in the nation’s politics in 2004. Even as the alliance was led by Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh was ensconced in the prime minister’s chair. Keeping this dual power equation going wasn’t easy. Around the same time, the party workers elected Rahul as the general secretary on 24 September 2007.

I remember this distinctly. Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh were held a few months before that. I was participating in a discussion on a national TV channel. On the day the results were announced, an analysis was done on how the Congress had fared in constituencies where Rahul had campaigned. Why just him, why don’t we analyse other leaders as well, was my question. But nobody took heed. In a few minutes, the headline flashing on TV read: Rahul fails in the UP battlefield.

Clearly, he was struggling on a number of fronts. There were three generations that separated the party’s young workers from feisty leaders in their nineties.

Gradually, Rahul Gandhi evolved a new chemistry to create a synergy between them. In this phase, he had to face ugly criticism at least twice in the last five years. The anonymous spin doctors of social media tried to anoint Rahul as “Pappu". His ancestors were constantly being maligned through fake news, but he remained unfazed. No other member of the Nehru-Gandhi family had to struggle as long as Rahul did. Victories in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have once again proved that every knock made him emerge stronger than before.

After the victory in these elections, the politeness with which Rahul Gandhi conducted himself in the press conference makes it clear that he wants to keep alive the dignity of the political discourse that is increasingly getting vitiated. One hopes he realises that his work is far from over. In 2019, he’ll be taking on an extremely aggressive and resourceful duo of Modi and Shah. Rahul Gandhi’s trial by fire is far from being complete.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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