Is Rahul Gandhi a loser?

Published: March 10, 2012

The writer is a director with Hill Road Media and a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

Rahul Gandhi has spent the last five years trying to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh, a giant state of 200 million people.

He has done this in two ways. He has tried to revive the party’s organisation and tried to bring back some communities which were traditionally Congress voters, but not any longer.

The first was done through internal democracy, by holding elections inside the party. It was also done by focusing on the Youth Congress.

The second was done in two ways. First, Rahul Gandhi started to attach himself to the Dalit (untouchable) community, by insisting on spending the night in their homes and eating with them. On one such visit to Uttar Pradesh in January 2009, he took along the then foreign secretary of the UK, David Miliband. Both men slept in a Dalit’s hut that night. He has been doing this so consistently that it no longer makes national news, but the Dalits are certain to have noticed.

The second thing he did was to offer underprivileged Muslims (from the peasantry), a share of the reservations constitutionally given to Hindu peasant castes. These reservations are for government jobs. There is debate among the upper caste Muslims whether this should be accepted, and there is also opposition from the Hindu peasants. The former views the reservations as a division of Muslim identity. They are uncomfortable with the idea that Muslims can be separated by caste. The latter are, of course, opposed because they are currently the only beneficiaries.

Results for Uttar Pradesh’s elections were announced last week. As they came in, some analysts like Shekhar Gupta blamed the Congress promise on reservations to socio-economically backward Muslims for the BJP’s strong initial showing. Then it turned out that they were wrong and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in fact, got fewer votes than they did five years ago.

The Congress got more votes than last time –– about 15 per cent of the total this time, compared to about 10 per cent last time. This time’s share included votes to an allied party of the Hindu peasants.

Though he managed to increase vote share, Rahul Gandhi was able to deliver only a handful of more seats. Since he had campaigned very heavily in the state, he is thought to have lost face here. Is he a loser?

I would say that he has been judged too soon. The fact is that in both 2009’s general elections and this year’s state election, the Congress has been adding voters. It has not been able to do this fast enough to satisfy the media, but a trend is visible. If it continues, the Congress may be able to challenge UP’s two big parties. Of these, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has a core of Dalit voters. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party counts on votes from the Yadav peasant community and from Muslims. For the last two elections, these parties got between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the total votes. Rahul Gandhi’s UP strategy directly attacks these two parties. If, by the next election, he is able to soften enough Dalits and Muslims to add another five per cent to the Congress’s vote share, success will be at hand.

The fourth party in the state is the BJP. Its upper-caste Hindu vote bank is secure, but stuck at 15 per cent. Except for the Congress, no party has the flexibility to take on voters from the other parties. Yadavs and Dalits are firmly in opposite camps. Muslims will not vote for BJP and Mayawati said that the reason for its narrow loss this time (the difference was four per cent of votes cast) was because 70 per cent of Muslims voted with the Yadavs. The Congress has no such problem in absorbing castes or faiths because it is an inclusive party. Both upper and lower castes can exist in it.

It would appear that Rahul Gandhi’s approach in UP has been thought through. Certainly, it is logically sound. It is also working, even if very incrementally. If he continues with it, and he says he will, Rahul Gandhi could be seen very differently by the next election.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2012.

Reader Comments (23)

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 11, 2012 - 1:10AM

    Like Diamonds, Politics are forever. Real politicians stay in the game and keep on trying. One or two defeats in elections mean nothing. Rahul with his hard work has created and established futur winning strategy. Running away from challenge is not an option in politics. Our geat Khan should take political lessons from Rahul.

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  • Dionysus
    Mar 11, 2012 - 3:07AM

    Here’s my take.

    In UP the drama of election campaigning is as important as party ideologies. BJP was pathetic in UP because it lacked a star mascot. SP had Akhilesh. BSP had Mayawati. Congress had Rahul. BJP made a blunder by bringing Uma for the campaign. Modi could have made difference. Who knows.

    Congress’s attempts to casually please everyone by hiding behind the word ‘inclusive’ is its biggest danger. It often makes people feel that Congress is being opportunistic more than other parties that have more narrow ideologies. While the ideal of inclusiveness is the only way forward, it demands high quality diplomatism, level-headedness and discipline which the current Congress top brass clearly lacks.

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  • Mar 11, 2012 - 5:12AM

    Why do you ask this question? He cannot rule India. Look how hard Benazir worked! Can you compare this man with her.? I hope he has re-imbursed the dalits after eating their food! This is democracy!

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  • Shehzad Shah
    Mar 11, 2012 - 6:39AM

    I hope the heir-apparent of our own leading party, Bilawal Zardari, will be given the time & guidance to similarly build his political career from the grass-roots. Forlorn hope I’m sure.

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 11, 2012 - 7:09AM

    Rahul Gandhi’s logic was very sound on paper, which is why he was advised to adopt this course of action. However, for a leader who has spent the last 5 years in building the Congress organization in UP, to declare that the main reason for loss (seconded by his mother) to be the weakness of the Congress organization (and too many leaders) in UP is ridiculous. The fact is that the Congress wishes to be acceptable to all ‘marginalized’ communities in UP, and decided that Dalits and Muslims were the best bet. The tragedy for Rahul Gandhi is that he has nothing to offer the Dalits, except to further divide them on the basis of caste (Jativa and others). Again with Muslims, the option of reservations for economically backward sections should have been placed on the table 5 years back for it to be bear fruit (I believe this should be implemented) – bringing it out of the bag just before elections has left a bad taste in the mouth of every other voter who would have considered the Congress. Now all the Congress can hope for is that the SP alienates a large number of Muslims in the next 5 years, which is unlikely.

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  • gt
    Mar 11, 2012 - 7:16AM

    Your understanding of how life in UP works and the issues that engage younger voters [study the demographics please] is very flawed and deterministic. You seem to have a simple algorithm, that based on “caste” where if you punch in the right combination, you can get X numbers of people to the polling booth. Here is where you are desperately wrong. Also, you present a factually inaccurate picture or are actually ignorant about the reason for Mayavati’s success in the last election: her Brahman- Dalit combine. She failed this time for a whole lot of reasons, which perhaps you have never cared to study in depth or tried to understand.

    What has been presented is extremely immature and an ignorant perspective of UP politics. This is the type of stuff some Western journalists churn out from their plush offices in the capital, without ever setting foot in the countryside. The same foolish blindness is also apparent in the news reportage on Pakistan.

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  • Mr. Righty rightist
    Mar 11, 2012 - 8:56AM

    I think Aakar Patel is reading too much into the results of UP and asking wrong questions.

    And I also feel that he’s missing the perspective here.

    The main thing to understand to get a perspective here is EDUCATION. Our people, whether in UP or elsewhere are not well educated. Even the educated ones are still not out of the box of traditional thinking.

    In every constituency, more accurately, in every locality, there are people who make their presence felt. And these people (whether they belong to SP or BSP or JDS or DMK or AIADMK or TDP) have a knack to get into the psyche of the people. Now these knacks are different in different localities and only a local leader knows this. At the end of the day, how well these tricks are executed, determines the votes. And a non-local leader can never understand these tricks.

    So, the right question here would be, Is congress (collectively, as a party) a loser IN UP? The answer is obvious.

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  • C. Nandkishore
    Mar 11, 2012 - 9:12AM

    I agree. It takes time to build an organisation. However once built it is difficult to dislodge it. Organisation allows you to come back e.g. Shiv Sena in Mumbai, DMK and AIDMK in TN. Alaki Dal, or the NC in Kashmir.

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  • swet
    Mar 11, 2012 - 9:57AM

    a share of the reservations constitutionally given to Hindu peasant castes.
    This time’s share included votes to an allied party of the Hindu peasants.

    hindu peasant, in first line refers to OBC and in second forward castes, be careful in your interpretation mr. author. forward castes don’t get reservation. Recommend

  • Mirza
    Mar 11, 2012 - 11:47AM

    A pragmatic analysis of the election results in UP. Five % increase is a modes target and can be achieved by the next elections. INC has a much bigger “tent’ than any other party.

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  • harkol
    Mar 11, 2012 - 4:31PM

    He is so wrong about Rahul Gandhi.He hasn’t been judged very soon, we have seen him for 7 years now.

    He is just another feudal lord, who exploits the poor by promising not much more than some sops, and that specious commodity called “charm”.

    Gandhi family is notorious for wanting to Keep India poor. Indiragandhi led the Nationalization and drove PSUs to ruin, created License Permit Raj – ensured a ‘hindu rate of growth’. Rajiv Gandhi promised to change things, but just perpetuated the same things.

    The real reforms & Change in India happened after Rajiv Gandhi’s death, and when Gandhi family took a temporary sabbatical from Politics. For nest 12 years non-Gandhi family folks changed India. In 2004, Gandhi family came back to power again, and continued to grow on the back of the inertia created in those 12 years, but it started faltering in 2008 (along with global meltdown).

    The reality is Rahul Gandhi’s pocket borough Amethi is one of the poorest constituencies in UP. It never got any great benefit for electing Gandhi family members for so so long.

    His promise of Reservation to Muslims, while sounds great, is no way to lift people out of poverty. If reservation helped reduce poverty it should’ve done so in 50 years of Independence. Poverty reduced when industry was encouraged and opportunities increased.

    Rahul Gandhi is just another feudal of the sub-continent. You can romanticize the guy, but he is an inept leader.Recommend

  • Vishal
    Mar 11, 2012 - 5:24PM

    The fact is that wherever this Rahul Gandhi aka Raul Vinci has gone for Compaining,Congress has lost by very big margine,b it in Bihar or in UP.
    I think He should b invited by BJP to compain in Gujrat too this year in December.
    And those Pakistanis,who think Rahul (Raul) is great leader or such,for their correction he has name “Gandhi” which matter most 4 him.
    Apart from that he is ZERO.
    Bilawal seems far better then (R)owl Vinci.Recommend

  • Rakib
    Mar 11, 2012 - 7:05PM

    The Congress got more votes than last time –– about 15 per cent of the total this time, compared to about 10 per cent last time.(Author)

    With plethora of Parties & Independents nibbling at the pie the electoral arithmetic is such that any Party that comes to power is most likely to have been rejected by the majority of voters. In such a scene a 50% increase on previous vote-share is a pointer to the slowly changing trend & credit goes to Rahul. A 5% swing is enough to change the rulers of the State.If this trend stays true,UP may still have an all-India Party in future.

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  • Mar 11, 2012 - 7:46PM

    Bilawal is a saint in front of this Rahul [nee Raul]Gandhi. Poor Bilawal loosing his mum at such a young age! Then the grand ma died. What a tragedy! Rahul Gandhi knows nothing about governance. A country like India needs a strong leader. Otherwise we will end up being a toy of the western countries!

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  • Abhi
    Mar 11, 2012 - 10:02PM

    the claim of vote share increase is bogus as it includes votes of RLD (Ajit Singh’s party) congress’s own share increased marginally and it actually decreased from 2009 lok sabha election.
    I don’t think rahul has patient for another 5 years to do hard work in UP. You will see him going for some vacations. He will be active just before 2014, will have lunch dinner with dalits and will hope to get more seats.Recommend

  • mrk
    Mar 11, 2012 - 11:33PM

    In India politics and politicians are a a hindrance who have been left behind by a country led by its drivers, the indian businesses. The only real relevance they have, beit rahul/congress or BJP is whether they would pose obstacles in way of Indian business and how many?

    The political news in India takes backseat to business and bollywood anyways and not many young indians are inspired by these politicians even if it’s Rahul. Pakistan is still stuck in India of 1980′s and before.

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  • gt
    Mar 11, 2012 - 11:36PM

    This time 70% of the UP Muslim vote allegedly went to the Samajwadi Party, according to Mayavati. True or not, the Congress is the worst enemy of Muslims’ progress and development in India as it tries very hard to create a vote bank [ even when it means importing Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, as happened in West Bengal for the whole decade of the 60s, a policy continued by the left parties].

    When Muslims allow themselves to be manipulated as a group, and by religious and social leaders who have been picked out for them, they forget that they are becoming their own worst enemies for the future. The more their neighbors feel threatened, and this is very crucial, the less of an economic future will the poorer Muslims have for themselves. These latter are the same people who are encouraged by their puppetmasters to say things like, We are taking back India one child at a time through our high birth rate, AND, for example, by telling Bengalis in West Bengal that Hindus will become a minority by 2040.

    Whenever identities are threatened, the results will be vicious. The Congress Party is the greatest player of identity politics in every sphere and it is a menace, along with the Samajwadi Party, which played the same game in the past.

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  • Deb
    Mar 12, 2012 - 5:11AM

    Rahul has lost a battle, not the war.He is in UP for the long haul.Mark my word.

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  • Abhi
    Mar 12, 2012 - 11:49AM

    @deb
    if you lose too many battles you cannot win the war!

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  • Manish Sharma
    Mar 12, 2012 - 2:07PM

    Rahul is a sure loser. The mere proof is that, out of 10 seats in his and his mother’s constituency viz. Amethi and Rai Bareily, the Congress has won only two. The Congress has never lost in these two constituency and were getting congress candidates winning in both of these constituency. This has happened for the first time in the history of Congress and India as well. Now, in 2014 elections the two peoples (mother-son duo) future is in jeopardy and cannot rely on the two surely winning constituency for Congress, which was called as Congress fortress. Not any more.

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  • well-wisher
    Mar 12, 2012 - 8:26PM

    Unless Congress produces a local leader in UP and strenghthens its organisation in the state, Rahul charishma won’t work in future as well which the author failed to bring out and the same were the main reasons for Congress poor showing. Rahul is not a PM material since he lacks political maturity and adminstrative capabilities.

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  • sushant
    Mar 17, 2012 - 4:20AM

    @Abhi:
    only bihar. UP vote share for the congress increased drastically

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  • sushant
    Mar 17, 2012 - 4:21AM

    @Vishal:
    your mis-spelling of rahul’s name shows your frustration and hatred . this is a viable trend among swayamsevaks and bjp workers. keep crying. your vote share went down by 2% while rahul increased the congress’ by 3.02%.

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