OPINION | Sorry, Rahul Gandhi. You Tried But Failed. Now Congress Needs a New Leader
From the Congress perspective, the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha election has one villain – Rahul Gandhi. From day one, Rahul appeared every bit a misfit, a reluctant leader who lacked hunger for power and an upper hand within the grand old party. With results still coming in, there are as many as 12 states where the Congress may not open its account!
Rahul toiled hard across the country, but the script of his poll campaign had no clear end goal. Rahul kept targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing him as ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ without pitting himself as an alternative.
The charges against Modi on Rafale lacked punch or demonstrative evidence. Worse was his inability to wriggle out of a legal wrangling where he had himself drawn wrath of the Supreme Court for ludicrously attributing the ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ remark to the apex court. The contempt notice could have been easily dealt with an unconditional apology in the first hearing but his in-house legal counsel tried to act political and clever by half. So in many rounds of polls, voters watched TV news headlines with amusement, “Rahul Ko Padi Supreme Court Ki Phatkar”.
At the ideological level, Rahul fought half-hearted battle on Hinduism or broader issue of religion, religion and politics. He and Priyanka were seen visiting temples, participating in yagnas but silent on the issue of Ram Temple. If Rahul and Priyanka had bothered to revisit lives of even Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, they would have realised that the pre and post independence history of the Congress is full of its Right-wing instances and leanings.
In 1948, Congress president Acharya Kripalani had toured Pakistan to assert that interests of Hindus in the newly formed state were of concern of Indian Union and the Congress. Whether it was demand for creation of Punjab or separatism in Punjab, Indira Gandhi closely identified herself with "Hindu" interests. K Karunakaran was a towering Hindu leader in Kerala and so was Tarun Gogoi in Assam.
However, in the absence of an Ayodhya doctrine, Rahul Gandhi’s temple run, Gotra-Janeyu declaration and alignment with the majority community faith sounded a bit hollow. The AICC chief failed to convince the voters why they should opt for the grand old party instead of Narendra Modi-led BJP who will fulfil their religious aspirations. Most Congressmen in Uttar Pradesh like to avoid talking about the ghost of Babri or Ram Janambhoomi, but this ostrich-like approach would not help the Congress. It is still not too late for Rahul to convene a special AICC session, hear out its grassroot workers and formulate a resolution on vexed Ayodhya dispute to show a way forward.
Similarly, the idea of NYAY scheme may have been excellent as voters love transactional relationship, but it never reached the people it was supposed to court. The authors of NYAY were a set of academicians and Rajya Sabha members who felt it was below their dignity to explain to the Congress cadre. Worse ‘Ab Hoga NYAY’ campaign was published in Hindi (but written in Roman script) in newspapers. The campaign jingle was a rap song which some found peppy but it did not resonate with not-so-young and rural voters. Surprisingly, the NYAY jingle made no mention of Congress or Vote for Congress slogan.
The Congress’ in-house disquiet over campaign plan, publicity and social media campaign merits a volume. There was constant bickering among Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh and Sam Pitroda over campaign contracts. Consequently, the exercise that was supposed to conclude in January 2019, went on till April first week, barely a week before fist votes were cast.
Those responsible for finalising and publishing manifesto were always at the loggerheads. It showed once again that Rahul was far from being in control even as the old guard-versus-young reduced Congress war room at 15 Gurudwara Rakabgunj Road to dysfunctional platform. 15 GRG, as it is addressed in Congress circles, hosted fewer meetings even though diet Coke were refrigerated well and chips and sandwiches and chocolates were well stocked.
Hurriedly and rather thoughtlessly, lot of creative work such as design, production, creative work were divided among few companies that had powerful patrons.
In my book 24, Akbar Road, I have mentioned that the famous historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun was once asked by Taimur the Conqueror about the fate of dynasties. Khaldun propounded that the glory of a dynasty seldom lasted beyond four generations. The first generation is inclined towards conquest, the second towards administration. The third generation, being free from the necessity to conquer or administer, is left with the pleasurable task of spending the wealth of its ancestors on cultural pursuits. Consequently, by the fourth generation, a dynasty has usually spent its wealth as well as human energy. Hence, the downfall of each royal house is embedded in the very process of its rising. According to Khaldun, it was a natural phenomenon and couldn't be avoided.
The root cause of problem is that, just like Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka see themselves as trustees of the party, and not wielders of power (which is what they are). This delusion is destroying the Congress, but the party leaders seem to be ignoring this crucial aspect. In post-independence India, Gandhis have led the Congress for almost six decades. It has created a huge dependence model where
Congressmen look up to Gandhi family members as unquestionable leaders and in return, expect electoral success, power etc.
From Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, no Gandhi membership has failed or abruptly opted out of politics. This illusion of grandeur is now running out of luck and time.
The optimistic among Congressmen, however, see a silver lining in 2019 poll debacle, pointing at the decline of several regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party. The Congress under Priyanka’s leadership has a chance to fill the void. But it will require Priyanka taking up a house and living in Uttar Pradesh 24x7, fighting street battles. Is she ready for that role leading to 2022 Uttar Pradesh state assembly?
(Rasheed Kidwai is a Visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation)