EVERY ELECTION GENERATES a wave of recriminations in the ranks of the defeated. Where and why did we go wrong? Who should take responsibility? What is the way forward? These are some of the legitimate questions that are asked, not merely in India, but the world over. The unity in the ranks that was presented to the electorate has a tendency to abruptly disappear as disappointed supporters fall back on bloodletting.
In India, the second successive decimation of the Congress has produced an almighty crisis. Rahul Gandhi, the man chosen by the party—without any opposition, I may add—to lead the charge against Narendra Modi has gone into a sulk. He has expressed his desire to resign and seems adamant that he no longer wants to continue as leader. By itself this is a perfectly honourable response. All over the world it has become customary for the leader to step down if the defeat has been particularly resounding. However, the Congress operates on the dynastic principle and the belief that only a member of the Nehru-Gandhi can and should lead the party is very deep-rooted. The family is seen as the glue that holds the disparate elements of the organisation together. This is more so because the Congress is more a machine than a party—the loose belief systems have been grafted on to the machine to give a semblance of coherence.
On their part the Gandhis too view the party as a jaagirdari. Although competence is not altogether absent as the road to advancement, personal preferences of the first family play a disproportionate role. Those who get on the wrong side of the family have no choice but to look elsewhere. On its part, the members of the family have a very strong sense of entitlement and believe in a curious form of divine right. The combination of noblesse oblige and imperiousness is very marked. This may explain Priyanka Gandhi’s outburst in Raebareli after the election and her profound sense of betrayal. There was no admission of contrition or even a cursory acknowledgement that the party had got it all wrong and totally misread the popular mood. Nor was there a recognition that the people in constituencies the family viewed as pocket boroughs were fed up being taken for granted.
But why blame the Congress dynasty alone for its sense of haughty disgust? I think we saw a very similar response from Mamata Banerjee who blamed her party’s indifferent performance of having done too much for the people. Of course, Mamata has subsequently regained her political instincts. And although she appears to be losing her temper a bit too frequently, she appears to have decided on a strategy to contain the rising BJP. Whether this invocation of sub- nationalism works or not, amid rampant allegations of high-handedness, corruption and inefficiency, is another matter altogether.
The Gandhis, it is said, are never wrong; they are invariably misled. This semantic difference invariably allows them to be insulated from the blame game that accompanies any serious political setback. In recent days, the blame is being sought to be pinned on the Congress’ in-house pollsters and data analysts that had given the leadership a highly exaggerated picture of the party’s prospects. It is understood that the Congress leadership was misled into believing that it should start preparations for a non-BJP coalition government. If true—and there no apparent reason to disbelieve the reports—it suggests that the only source of feedback for the party was the pollsters and data crunchers. The traditional source of political feedback—the qualitative assessment from the constituencies—seems to have been totally missing.
Pollsters fulfil an important function: as a supplementary source of information, especially in areas where the organisation isn’t subjected to checks and balances. However, they can also be terribly misleading. My own experience suggests that there is often an inclination of the pollsters to provide their clients good news rather than accurate information. Many pollsters are inclined to tell parties what they want to hear—that the support levels are encouraging, when clearly they are not. In 2009, a section of the BJP leadership was deluded into thinking that the party was performing fantastically and mopping up seats. No wonder the outcome came as a big surprise and even generated a bizarre campaign to highlight electronic voting machine (EVM) manipulation. This silly campaign is now being flung in the face of the Modi Government by the present-day opponents of EVMs.
In the coming days we are likely to witness even more examples of silly behaviour.