Rahul’s Dis­cov­ery of Congress

The Congress VP fol­lowed his fa­ther Ra­jiv with apo­lit­i­cal back­room boys, snub­bing deep-rooted gen­er­als

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - C L Manoj

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!

Déjà Vu

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.

ARINDAM

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