Congress must launch frontal assault on BJP
If and when Rahul Gandhi does become the de jure Congress president from his present de facto status, it will undoubtedly be the first instance of a proven failure's rise to the top of his party on the basis of nothing else but lineage.
But for the crown prince’s dynastic background, there is nothing to recommend him for the highest post in a 131-year-old party with a glorious past but a less than bright present and, possibly, an even dismal future.
Rahul’s track record as one of a pair in the mother-and-son combination in the high command is an unflattering one. The Congress has been going downhill from even before the crushing blow it received in the 2014 general election. In 2013, it lost the key states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Delhi.
After being reduced to a humiliating 44 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 from 206, the Congress lost a series of Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Assam, West Bengal, and Kerala. The party’s chances of finding its way back in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa next year are extremely slim.
In a normal democratic party, such a miserable performance would have led to the resignation of mother and son as president and vice-president. To be fair, they did offer to do so in 2014, but it was known to be a token, insincere gesture which they knew would be rejected by the party serfs. The outcome of the other token gesture of asking a loyalist like AK Antony, to ascertain the reason for the defeat was known even before the inquiry gave a clean chit to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul.
In such an atmosphere of cloying servility, it is not surprising that the Congress is waiting with bated breath for the heir-apparent to don the mantle although the dowager queen will remain the power behind the throne. But what will be obvious to any political observer is that the party’s downhill slide will not come to a halt.
Indeed, as Smriti Irani, who was Rahul’s direct opponent in Amethi constituency, has said, his coronation can herald the long-awaited “Achhe Din” for the BJP. Apart from the admission that the hoped-for “good days” haven’t yet arrived, what her snide remark suggests is that Rahul can be expected to continue to fail to take the party to greater heights as president if only because he simply doesn’t have it in him to play a rejuvenating role.
Yet, party workers are still hoping for a miracle. Since such an attitude defies political sense, it is difficult to understand what exactly they are expecting unless they are driven by a collective death wish. The mother and son, too, are clinging to their posts for dear life presumably because “leading” the party is the only thing they know even if it means taking it to destruction.
It is not impossible that the party men continue to place their faith in the family history of resurrections in 1969-71 vis-à-vis the Syndicate and again in 1980 after the Emergency. But there are major differences between those days and the current scene. First, the present generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family lacks the charisma of the earlier leaders and, secondly, the BJP has grown into a formidable challenger in spite of the presence of saffron militants who want to drag the country back to the medieval ages.
If Sonia and Rahul had been more politically savvy, they might have exploited the BJP’s antediluvian ideas to make some headway. But ever since Sonia believed that her “maut ki saudagar” comment against Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections in 2002 had backfired, she has been wary of being too critical of the Prime Minister.
In any event, Rahul doesn’t have a chance to beat Modi in the latter’s own game of bluster and showmanship in a presidential-style confrontation. For the Congress to gain ground, it has to attack him in a flanking movement by targeting the hotheads in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. However, the Congress’s apparent fear is that by doing so, it will alienate the Hindus. It is this fear which made Rajiv Gandhi open the gates of the Babri Masjid to keep the Hindus in tow.
If the Congress was able to recover some of the lost ground from the blunders of the late 1980s, it was via the opening up of the economy in 1991, which paid its most valuable dividend between 2005-06 and 2011-12 when there was the “fastest ever” reduction in poverty levels, according to the Modi government’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian.
But Sonia ensured by her spendthrift populism that the economic gains would be frittered away. It will be difficult for the present-day anti-reforms Congress to claim credit for its achievements in reducing poverty and win back the job-hungry young people, who are now Modi’s votaries.
(The author is a political analyst. Views are strictly personal.)