EVEN THE MOST perseverant supporters of Rahul Gandhi may finally be giving up on him. In the past two years or so, one would often hear from these supporters that Rahul’s politics is different; that he does not care about his position within the party but for the kind of politics he thinks the party must preach and practise. They knew that is not how politics works, but many of them are themselves partial to a certain federalese, glimpses of which they often got in Rahul Gandhi’s speeches. In their desperation to see one man (Narendra Modi) down, they could not see that the other man they were all pinning their hopes on is just not capable of leadership.
Every time Rahul would return from a hiatus, they would wonder if this was the time it was going to be different. He would again make mistakes in his speech, but own up immediately, once even saying sarcastically that unlike the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he made mistakes. Then someone from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) benches would react and Rahul’s supporters would rub their hands in glee. “See, see, he makes them nervous,” they would say with their glowing faces.
But politics, as The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris once remarked on an NDTV debate, is a tough business, and Rahul Gandhi is not good at this job. In recent times, party workers have found him missing at crucial junctures when immediate decisions ought to have been taken. As the party faces one debacle after another, he seems to be in no hurry, except to portray himself as a modern Mahatma Gandhi who takes tough positions on complex questions of morality.
“He is just not getting down from his moral high horse while everything around him is falling to pieces,” says a senior Congressman. Mahatma Gandhi was an astute politician, unlike Rahul Gandhi, he says. “Look at Madhya Pradesh. Your friend (Jyotiraditya Scindia), who used to beat his desk in Parliament as a drum in your support, is gone. People say the old guard has appropriated him. But even that is not true. Today, Kamal Nath is fighting a lone battle in his state,” he says.
Rahul saying that Scindia kept his political ideology in his pocket before joining the BJP may be true, but there has been no introspection on why he chose to leave. Even the shabbiest HR departments conduct an exit interview nowadays. In Congress’ case, nobody knows who the HR is.
Nobody knows what Rahul Gandhi stands for, what stream of political consciousness he represents. “In his speeches some times, he shows a certain clarity. Like his statements about upholding the Constitution and a fight of ideology between the Congress and the BJP-RSS. But what is the action on the ground? Nothing,” says a senior Youth Congress leader.
The question, as old Congressmen would tell you, is not what, but how. And the party, with Rahul’s shadow looming over it, does not know just that. The jangling in Rahul Gandhi’s strategy and thought process has left the party cadre irked. Between his Dattatreya-ness and embrace of Kanhaiya Kumar, the workers do not know what message to go to their cadre with.
In February last year, Rahul addressed a rally in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, the party’s first independent rally in Bihar in 28 years. It perked up local leaders who thought that Rahul would now, to put it in a Bihar Congress leader’s words, play on the front foot. But they were disheartened immediately when Rahul appeared in the rally and presented Tejashwi Yadav as the future of Bihar. “Dukaan humne lagayi, mithai Tejashwi le gaya (We had set up shop, Tejashwi came and had the sweetmeat),” the Congress leader said. Nobody understood why Rahul had done something like this. “There is no killer instinct. How can one fight elections if everything you do is half-hearted,” he wondered.
It is with the same randomness that Rahul has treated most crucial political issues. Rahul Gandhi’s head, quips a political journalist, is like a bad newsroom—he quickly moves on from one issue to another. There is hardly any follow-up, any method to his politics. From his promise of support to Tribals in Niyamgiri, his engagement with Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, to his level of preparedness on political issues like Rafale and Doklam, the loftiness of his commitment borders on Tartuffism.
In recent times, Congress workers have found Rahul missing at crucial junctures when immediate decisions ought to have been taken. As the party faces one debacle after another, he seems to be in no hurry, except to portray himself as a modern Mahatma Gandhi who takes tough positions on complex questions of morality
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Even, very recently, during riots in northeast Delhi, the same adhocism was at display when Rahul went on a brief visit to the area after which nothing came of it.
Regional parties and their satraps who wanted to fight with the Congress are now realising it is better to go it alone. Most are content with their regional space and have currently restricted their ambition of playing it big at a pan-India level. Parties like the Aam Aadmi Party rely on freebies (and local governance) to come to power. They have realised that at a national level, Rahul Gandhi is nowhere in the horizon as a viable alternative to Narendra Modi. So they are keeping mum and are consolidating themselves at a regional level.
IN THE MEANTIME, there are attempts within the Congress that Rahul Gandhi be made the chief again. This, at a time when the party is facing an existential crisis. Except for a little cushioning in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the Congress has disappeared from big states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, where they have one seat each in Lok Sabha. In Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, they are zero.
“The Congress would have split if young leaders like Scindia or Sachin Pilot had the courage to take the Gandhis head on. But they cannot get up, and say that, ‘look, this party is also made with the sweat and blood of my father. I will not let it go waste like this’,” says a Congress watcher.
But there are enough indications that many are resisting Rahul’s takeover. After Scindia’s crossover to the BJP, Sachin Pilot chose not to criticise him, instead saying that he wished things could have been sorted out within the party. Others like Manish Tewari are now saying that there is a “silent majority” within the party that wants Sonia Gandhi to continue as Congress chief.
“There is an overwhelming consensus in the Congress that we need Sonia [Gandhi] as president for the foreseeable future,” Tewari said in an interview to journalist Karan Thapar.
By now, one would have expected that such a situation does not arise. Sonia Gandhi gave enough time to Rahul Gandhi to be groomed and then run the party. Even after repeated failures, there is a mother who would want her son to succeed. But right now, she may be the only person, apart from a small coterie of Rahul’s advisors, who want this. Others, including the ones who may have spent days on Twitter sending jibes at Jyotiraditya Scindia on making ‘V’ signals in a picture along with BJP’s Sadhvi Pragya, are letting it go this time. They have packed their bags and now await a miracle for their dreams to come true.