A reluctant leader
Suspended in the hangover of Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, Congress faces an existential crisis
It is only a strong opposition that can check the government in power from straying away from the principles of democracy. But, unfortunately, the splintered Opposition and the crisis of leadership in Congress at this crucial juncture have created a situation that only benefits BJP.
Notwithstanding the allegations of misuse of EVMs, with the 'Old Guard' keeping a studied distance, and with strategies of the 'Young Turks' going totally awry, Congress lost the elections and is in a mess. Taking full responsibility for the electoral debacle, Rahul Gandhi has resigned from the helm, plunging the party into a rudderless organisation for the past many days.
A real leader would have taken charge and worked with twice the vigour in an event of a crisis. The saying, 'Some are born great; some achieve greatness, and greatness is thrust on some,' is aptly applicable to politics. Greatness was thrust on Rahul Gandhi only because he has the aura of a dynasty. But he has only proved himself to be a 'reluctant leader', in stark contrast to what Modi is.
Most of the leadership theories in vogue can be classified as one of eight major types –'The Great Man' theories; Trait; Contingency; Situational; Behavioural; Participative; Management; and Relationship theories. The 'Great Man' theories emphasise the charisma, confidence, intelligence, and social skills as characteristics of a born leader; 'Trait' theories speak about the inheritance of traits like extroversion, self-confidence and courage; 'Contingency' theories, however, insist that effective leadership is not just about the qualities of the leader, it is about his ability to assess the needs of their followers, take stock of the situation, and then adjust their behaviours accordingly. Situational theories propose that leaders choose the best course of action based upon situational variables, like how the most knowledgeable and experienced person chooses an authoritarian style. In contrast to the 'Great Man' theories, the 'Behavioural' theories say that great leaders are made, not born; the focus is on actions, not on mental qualities or internal states. 'Participative', 'Management', and 'Relationship' theories also explain the tenets of leadership, which are of lesser relevance in power-seeking politics.
Rahul Gandhi's leadership does not fit into any of these theories since he appears to be a 'reluctant leader', propelled to the top by circumstances and sycophants to counter the mighty force of Modi, who is of the 'Situational' type.
Modi and Shah know very well what it requires to reach the centre of power and to stay there–money, absolute control of media and institutions, promises to the voters, and importantly a stable government under a strong leader, whose writ is followed in letter and spirit by everyone. They have mastered them. Firstly, by declaring that those over 75 are meant to serve only as mentors, Modi had strengthened his position from within. The backing of a committed cadre of RSS was always there since, for them, their long-awaited chance to saffronise the country and promote their Hindu agenda has come; that, too, under a very strong leader. Moreover, they are in power, with all resources at their command. One after the other, each state has been falling to their designs.
They are clear about their strategies. They used 'policy paralysis and corruption' of UPA 2, woman of foreign origin against Sonia; then, the hold of dynasty on Congress party and country's politics, Congress-mukt Bharat, corruption-free country, strong leader who would make decisions, and thus, evoked nationalism through their actions of fighting terror and attacks in Pakistan. Through blatant incidents of lynching and encounters of Muslims and Dalits, fear has been created among them, while through cow-protection measures, etc., Hindu nationalism has been invoked. They exploited the weaknesses and differences in their political opponents. Rs 27,000 crores and enormous money spent in elections this year is proof of their money-power. Media has been subdued to such an extent that they are 'His master's voice'. Systematically capturing institutions is evident in the kinds of raids conducted against political opponents either to toe their line or to face extinction. Even SC is shown who is the boss. The conduct of the EC during the elections demonstrates the height of their pro-government stance.
In contrast, Rahul was leading a 'young brigade' without much experience and resources; the loyalties of many defunct seniors were questionable. There was no collective fight on Congress's part. The senior leaders were nowhere to be seen during the electoral battle. Further, he does not have a cadre of the like of RSS with him. As an individual, he was no match to Modi in stature, oratory, experience, or resources. Furthermore, never in the past had he proved himself to be a strong leader in order to project himself now as an alternative to extremely resourceful Modi.
Modi is admired because of his firm decisions. Rahul at times is firm but is mostly impetuous. At least, his counter-strategies should have been robust. His feeble attacks on matters like Rafale deal were being easily countered. More importantly, when Congress alone was not equipped to fight the might of Modi, all the opposition leaders should have been brought on a single platform. His decisions about alliances were based on misguidance. For example, a mature alliance with AAP would have yielded positive results in Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. But, Sheila Dikshit, against whom cases of corruption were registered by the AAP government, advised against it. It becomes obvious that she was more interested in protecting herself by colluding with BJP, rather than working for the victory of Congress. Independently contesting at other places as well indicates that their assessment of the ground situation was incorrect. This is taking into account the assumption that allegations of misuse of EVMs and the machinery by BJP are incorrect. The contest was a mismatch. To assume that he would be able to take on Modi and BJP was thus preposterous. It was the cardinal mistake Rahul had committed.
There is no denying the fact that Rahul Gandhi personally fought the Prime Minister, the RSS and the institutions they captured, using corruption in Rafale deal as a plank, and the slogan 'Chowkidar chor hai', he tried hard. But, that was not enough. People did not back him up.
People perceived Congress as weak, and the regional leaders as corrupt power-seekers. They were sure that such gathering would only fight for the crumbs as soon as they come to power. When none of these leaders inspired any confidence among people, pitting of a nationally acceptable leader against Modi would have been the right strategy; but it was not done. On the other hand, in spite of all their failures in keeping up their promises, and in spite of all the economic troubles faced, TINA factor was weighing heavily on the minds of people. They saw BJP at least as a monolithic party and Modi as a strong leader. And Modi exploited it very cleverly, and adverse conditions were turned into virtues. Thus, it was not a positive vote for BJP; it was a rejection of the opposition leadership.
Now, post-election, Congress is passing through a real crisis of its relevance in national politics; facing challenges like the political games in Karnataka and MP; Goa has already gone out of its hands. At this juncture, deserting the party by its leader is causing disorientation among its cadres, in contrast to the robust RSS, which does not depend on the political leadership of BJP. Aghast seniors like Karan Singh have suggested that CWC should find an early solution so that the paralysed party would arrest the negative fallout and begin resuscitating. It is time that someone, who has grit, confidence, courage, intelligence, experience, and strategies, takes charge. Otherwise, BJP will achieve its target of Congress-mukt Bharat. There is an existential crisis staring in the face of Congress, and also of Indian democracy.
(Dr. N Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)