Rahul’s Discovery of Congress
The Congress VP followed his father Rajiv with apolitical backroom boys, snubbing deep-rooted generals
To witness the making of history from up close is a privilege. To witness its replay is a bonus. Sonia Gandhi’s address to the Congress Parliamentary Party on May 24 at its gloomiest post-Independence moment was eerily similar to her speech at the 1998 AICC session in Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium, a month after her anointment as the leader, albeit untested, of a defeated Congress.
The ruthless dumping of the incumbent president Sitaram Kesri had taught her the ground rule in the Congress: just three things keep the Congress establishment on the drive — votes, victory and power. It revers only a mascot that can lead them to conquer. So, her presidential concern for a party in trouble can’t be second to her maternal worries for her son!
In her address at Siri Fort, a nervous and shy Sonia Gandhi said, “I have come to this office at a critical point in the history of the party. Our numbers in Parliament have dwindled. Our support base among the electorate has been seriously eroded. Some segments have drifted from us. We are in danger of losing our central place in the polity of our country as a central party of governance.” Last Saturday, Sonia Gandhi could well have repeated that sentence.
At Siri Fort, Sonia Gandhi had also cited her main challenge: reviving the Congress in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. And 16 years on, despite a 10-year booster shot of power, the Congress stands decimated across the country. This is the progress card Rahul Gandhi has brought home after the Congress was placed under his de facto leadership.
Why blame Rahul alone? Didn’t Team Manmohan create such a mess that the Congress’ electoral burial was inevitable? True. The UPA-II ran on a death wish right from the word go, and committed serial hara-kiri.
Who’s the Party Host?
But when a government goes off the track, as UPA-II did, normally, the party steps in with course correction. But Rahul Gandhi’s fanciful experiments had crippled the Congress establishment. Since he alone could be the party’s future PM, Gandhi’s unwillingness to join the government also meant no one else could replace the defunct Manmohan Singh to give the government a new momentum.
Rahul’s experiments left telling effects. The Youth Congress (YC), the agitational and often physical wing of the party, got gentrified, and never once hit the street to defend the UPA. An old Alsatian was “reformed” into a poodle. In Tamil Nadu, Team Rahul’s biggest success in YC drive, Congress polled a pitiable 4.3% votes!
Having let off realpolitik steam in his outings in UP, Niyamgiri Hills and Mumbai local trains, till about 2012, Rahul chose to be his own man. While preaching “how to defeat Modi with love”, he waged a war against the Congress establishment. His “temper” became well-shown, he and his corporate-style office were mostly inaccessible to even senior leaders. He also had no patience with those who pitched for critical pre- poll alliances in UP, Bengal and TN.
He let his apolitical backroom team — draftsmen, technocrats, fortune seekers and social climbers — “help him win elections” through laptops/data collection, and appointed many greenhorns as regional commanders. He imposed ex-socialists, Sanghis and unproductive professors in AICC to mess up time-tested political/organisational/election management systems. Rahul could do all this only because of his surname. He put on a fake “angry-youngman” act, only to be rejected by the youth. After the disaster, the ones trying to distance themselves from Team Rahul are the same people who had promoted themselves on their “Rahul tag”: the Milind Deoras and Jairam Rameshes, like the Arun Singhs and Arun Nehrus of yore.
Slow, Unsteady Learner
Rahul’s real failure was his refusal to learn his mother’s real strength. Sonia Gandhi understood her limitations and the reality of her position. When the Congress brass brought her in ceremonial splendour to anoint her as Congress chief, she never made the mistake of taking them for her palanquin bearers.
She understood these Congress leaders, product of Indira-Sanjay era, are entrenched warlords and equal stakeholders. Only those with skills of Indira Gandhi or Sanjay could set terms of leadership. Sonia Gandhi was to play a harmonising unifier so that the army could march ahead and she can be the face of victory. She played that role perfectly.
But Rahul chose to follow his father. The “nice guy” Rajiv Gandhi took the post-Indira assassination massive victory as his licence to demolish the Congress establishment, called them “power brokers”, snubbed his CMs and propped up his own apolitical team. But as V P Singh, a Sanjay Gandhi chela, unleashed Bofors on Rajiv, the battle-hardened Congress brass whom Rajiv humiliated just lay back and watched the fun. Politics can’t be one-way street.
Acrippling defeat can make Rahul respond in two ways: either show off that he is least affected and shall carry on with “the mission”, or wise up and discover his party’s core truths. Rajiv Gandhi had opted for the latter course while sincerely working on a second coming.