Has Rahul Gandhi understood the magnitude of the catastrophe inflicted by Narendra Modi on the Congress? If so, it is difficult to see signs of this in the young prince’s actions. While insecurity, resentment and little rebellions have infected the Congress (the iron grip of Modi over his party making the contrast even more stark), where is its leader?
Recent reports said he was off on holiday to Europe with his sister, Priyanka, and family. This might surprise many, given that the Congress continues to find only bad press, even when it is in opposition and away from the spotlight. But what can we expect from someone who sloped off to Bali to relax after delivering the worst electoral performance in his party’s history?
For Congressmen, who are still stunned by the disaster, the scene gets grimmer by the day. Elections in Maharashtra will confirm that the party is in an irreversible decline. Irreversible, not because of the fates, but because there is no effort to correct the slide.
Across western and northern India, the party has been pushed into becoming a permanent opposition. It has not won an election in Gujarat in 30 years (the last time was Rajiv Gandhi’s sweep of 1984-85). It finds itself in a similar situation in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it will be out for 15 years at the end of the current term. It is no longer relevant in two major states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has spectacularly revived itself. It has fallen behind the BJP even in Tamil Nadu and Bengal. In Maharashtra, where it has lost only once in history, it is going to be hammered in the election later this year. And so, also in Delhi.
This is a nationwide crisis for the Congress and a revival will require a decade of constant and focused hard work. But, as I said, where is there any sign that Rahul Gandhi is on the job? For weeks, Rahul has been demanding that the Congress get the leader of the opposition post in the Lok Sabha. Why does he even want it? I honestly don’t understand this. What will the Congress do with the post? Rahul shows such little interest in politics and party (his attendance in parliament being one very good indicator of this disinterest) that it is difficult to see such demands from him as being anything other than procedural. Even if Modi bends (something that is unthinkable) and gifts the Congress this purely ceremonial post, it is going to change nothing in the attitude of the Gandhis.
Hundreds of Congressman each spent tens of millions of rupees in the election and lost, many of them losing their deposits as well. These people, who have made a serious investment in politics and do not practise it as a hobby, will be furious with their party’s leadership. They will be wondering whether it is worthwhile spending more in a losing cause. They will need to be convinced that the Congress can be revived and is in the process of doing so. This signal to them can only come from Rahul Gandhi, and yet, we can see no indication that this is happening.
Leadership in Indian politics demands little principle and does not even require high intelligence. Only two things alone are needed: enthusiasm and hard work.
Rahul Gandhi shows no enthusiasm and no willingness to work. I said this on television this week and the Congress spokesman on the debate was offended. He said Gandhi attended so many election rallies during the campaign (as if he was doing his party a favour). Perhaps he did, but even here, it must be said that it was only half as many as Modi.
It is not some brilliant idea or magic wand that Modi produced to sweep the Lok Sabha elections. The ‘Gujarat Model’ was attacked regularly by credible and neutral academics throughout the elections. It is Modi’s doggedness, his determination and his unflagging work that has made him successful.
He contests the game like he has some stake in it. Not so the Gandhis. They seem quite satisfied in defeat. In their behaviour, I am reminded of the later Mughals, who were happy to sell the elephants and to see the family silver go, so long as they were in charge of the derelict palace and held on to their grand titles.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.
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