Another year wasted for Congress
Rahul Gandhi does not have the stomach to wage a tiresome political battle.
During his farewell speech in Lok Sabha during last Budget session, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi made a very pertinent political observation. He said that he was a year older than his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav and a year younger to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. In making this observation, he underlined the fact that their (the UP CM and his predecessor's) political maturity was not subservient to their age and that they were the masters of their move.
This was a telling remark on Rahul Gandhi's lack of leadership qualities, especially his failure to pose any serious challenge to the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre, or for that matter the BJP governments in the states. Ever since Rahul Gandhi emerged as a person of eminence in the Congress leadership pantheon, the Congress beat has always resounded with the talk about who currently enjoys influence over him.
In the past few years, there has been a progressive perception about him that he is unable to act without the crutches of advisors; and more sadly, his public pronunciations are never taken to be his own. In fact, they are not; all tutored by some advisor. This has also reflected on the political stance which the party has taken on different issues in the past year.
The Congress party, thanks to long years of governance and political participation, did, on occasions come out with very articulate and sagacious initial reactions to matters of national importance only to be muddied by the doings of its leader Rahul Gandhi. His "khoon ki dalali" (bartering soldiers' blood) comment on the surgical strike by the Army in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, his competitive bad-mouthing of Narendra Modi with Arvind Kejriwal on the suicide committed by an ex-serviceman, and though on a lesser pitch, the brouhaha over the gunning down of the eight SIMI militants in Madhya Pradesh only went to erode his credibility as a serious politician, if ever there existed one.
What's further wearing down his image, which Rahul Gandhi must understand, is his competing in political madness with AAP's Arvind Kejriwal. If there was a need for proof, there was plenty to be found on the streets and police stations of New Delhi last year, when the leaders of the two parties fought for space behind the bars. Little did Gandhi realise that Modi had successfully reduced him to a position of battling for political interplay with comparative newbie Kejriwal. Little did he also realise that there is a method in Kejriwal's political madness, which cannot be the political character and temper of the Congress party.
He could take a leaf or two out of the book of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who showed great political skills to emerge as an erudite leader from the crisis which his government and the party faced from the old guard. There isn't any other politician in the same age bracket who has shown the same wisdom to emerge as a player of long political innings as Akhilesh Yadav did. Though his party lost in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, Akhilesh Yadav did not lose on his political stature.
Thus, it's an unfortunate state for the country where the principal Opposition is unable to rise to the challenge of articulating a well-argued position against the government. Congress has to identify issues for long-drawn battles instead of resorting to the politics of shoot-and-scoot, which is patented by the AAP and suits their repertoire best.
In his rush to stand alongside fringe groups on the JNU campus, Rahul Gandhi last year put the onus of defending Durga's honour unnecessarily on the party. He should realise that there must have been a good reason for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to maintain a safe distance from the whole JNU controversy. In fact, the scholarly address by Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose on nationalism debate in Lok Sabha last year, alongside Biju Janata Dal's Tathagata Sathapathy, underlined that in the battle between the Left and Right they could play the arbitrator.
The Congress, thanks to Rahul Gandhi's political cameos, has come out looking firmly with the (ultra) Left and more dangerously anti-Hindu. This is bad as this could mean ceding the nationalist space completely to the BJP. The Congress leadership must understand, if BJP leaders rake up the Mahishasur Diwas issue, it helps them consolidate their position with their vote bank. If Rahul Gandhi goes and stands with the supporters of Afzal Guru, it harms the Congress and shreds its appeal among the larger Indian masses.
The challenge for the Congress party is to put the government on the mat on issues of development, in asking questions about "ache din", and not allowing them the escape route of identity politics. The Congress must realise after the defeat in 1999, the party rebuilt itself brick-by-brick. It should do the same now. There are no short-cuts as Sonia Gandhi had found out in the 1990s when Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to support her as Prime Minister. The party should allow the NDA government to function and let it commit mistakes.
However, the Congress vice-president so far has not shown that he has the stomach to wage a long and tiresome political battle with Narendra Modi-led NDA. The politics of shoot and scoot, which, as mentioned earlier, he has borrowed from Aam Aadmi Party, makes him a poor replica of Arvind Kejriwal. And when the original is available to take on Narendra Modi on a daily basis, where is the space for a replica? The Delhi municipal poll results showed – the Congress came a poor third.
Rahul Gandhi is practising what can be best termed as pulp politics. His political appearances are all oriented towards catching television cameras. He must realise that the role which his mother wants him to play is that of a public leader and not a television personality. A public leader must have a vision which is targeted at a much larger following than merely a television audience. Appearance on television can at best supplement Gandhi's public following, but it certainly cannot be the way for public connects.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal.)