Elevation of the Dy­nasts

Can this lot of suave, priv­i­leged scions chal­lenge Modi-Shah jug­ger­naut for As­sem­bly and Lok Sabha polls?

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

What does the long awaited elevation of Rahul Gandhi por­tend? Does it sug­gest an al­lur­ing “youth” blast from the Op­po­si­tion po­si­tioned for 2019? Is it cal­cu­lated on a nar­rower mar­gin of vic­tory for Naren­dra Modi in his home state of Gu­jarat, or even a sur­prise up­set? Lord Megh­nad De­sai in a re­cent col­umn cau­tioned against scoff­ing at the idea of a light-on-sub­stance youth ap­peal. The nom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal jour­ney, which be­gan in 2004 when Rahul Gandhi be­came an MP from Ame­thi, now sees the heir ap­par­ent walk­ing the walk and talk­ing the talk bet­ter than ever be­fore. Some say it is him­self, ma­tur­ing as a politi­cian, with im­proved am­bi­tion and fo­cus. Oth­ers say that Rahul Gandhi seems to have gath­ered a bet­ter set of speech/tweet writ­ers. Through­out th­ese 17 years, Rahul Gandhi has stead- fastly stayed away from any of­fice of gov­ern­ment, though de facto he has been call­ing a lot of the shots since be­com­ing party gen­eral sec­re­tary in 2007, and vice pres­i­dent in 2013. Nev­er­the­less, he has con­trib­uted or presided over, it is al­leged, 29 con­sec­u­tive elec­toral losses. He tried hard to re­form the work­ing of the youth wing and the stu­dent­based NSUI, change around state unit of­fice-bear­ers, mo­ti­vate grass­roots work­ers, etc., with in­ter­mit­tent talk of in­ner party democ­racy and elec­tions. In prac­tice, pro­cesses have stayed largely nom­i­nated, and at­tempts to in­duct po­lit­i­cal novices from dis­ad­van­taged sec­tions have fallen flat.

Mean­while, the 130-yearold Congress it­self is re­duced to rul­ing just two large states, namely Pun­jab and Kar­nataka, with other small left­overs from a rav­ished pres­ence in the North­east.

In Par­lia­ment, it has fewer than 50 seats in the Lok Sab ship in the Ra­jya Sabha. Much how­ever is made of an oc­ca­sional pan­chayat, mu­nic­i­pal or par­lia­men­tary by­elec­tion seat win, clutched at as a pos­si­ble in­di­ca­tion of a turn­ing of the tide.

This up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial “elec­tion” sug­gests Rahul Gandhi has de­cided to go the dis­tance, de­spite the pun­ish­ment. The tim­ing also sug­gests that pulling it off for an ail­ing So­nia Gandhi might be run­ning out of time. Of course, as long as she oc­cu­pies 10 Jan­path, there will still ex­ist a par­al­lel cen­tre of power, with yet an­other, in a much lower key, around the Vadra res­i­dence too. It also means the fur­ther di­min­ish­ment for So­nia Gandhi’s long-serv­ing courtiers, with So­nia her­self see­ing to it that they are un­able to sab­o­tage her son. They may not be turfed out right away, but will cer­tainly be sup­planted by Rahul’s own co­terie. They too are Congress dy­nasts, who have been ma­tur­ing on the vine along­side—Scin­dia, De­ora, Hooda, Prasada, Pi­lot etc., and al­lies Omar Ab­dul­lah, Akhilesh Ya­dav, Te­jaswi Ya­dav and so on. Prince Charles may be for­given his twinges of pain, though this is only an ab­di­ca­tion and pass­ing of the ba­ton in a po­lit­i­cal party in the Com­mon­wealth.

But can this lot of suave and priv­i­leged scions chal­lenge the Modi-Shah jug­ger­naut for the re­main­ing As­sem­bly elec­tions and the gen­eral elec­tions in 2019? Can Rahul Gandhi make more ef­fec­tive de­ci­sions go­ing for­ward?

With the sidelin­ing of the Old Guard, most of the taint of se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion that hov­ers like a mi­asma over el­derly for­mer Union/State and Chief Min­is­ters from the Congress/ UPA, and quite a few pli­ant func­tionar­ies/bu­reau­crats, will be jet­ti­soned. Of course, Rahul has the Na­tional Her­ald case of his own to con­tend with, and there could be one or two more. The main thing is to stay cor­rup­tion free go­ing for­ward. Given this, and mak­ing con­sis­tent sense in pro­nounce­ments, the 40% of vot­ers that are now ur­ban, with 65% of them under 35, may well be­come en­thu­si­as­tic in due course. More so, be­cause In­dia is headed to­wards be­com­ing an ur­ban so­ci­ety within “a gen­er­a­tion”. Congress mean­while is up­dat­ing its “sec­u­lar”, mi­nor­ity ap­peas­ing, os­ten­si­bly lib­eral out­look, basted with a soft Hin­dutva to boot.

The ur­ban youth could in­creas­ingly buy into the Rahul ver­sion of “In­dia”, as op­posed to Modi’s more rus­tic ap­peal to “Bharat”. This, may not do the trick in 2019 or even 2024, but 2029 could well be theirs. But even this will re­main a pipe dream, un­less Congress im­proves its show­ing in 2019. This means ton­ing up its lousy lack of or­gan­i­sa­tion at booth and block lev­els to ri­val any­thing the BJP and the RSS can bring to bear. The old caste, class, and religion fis­sures, tra­di­tion­ally ex­ploited by the Old Guard, have been bested by ro­bust BJP’s Ma­hadalit sup­port, and a new found res­o­nance with Mus­lim women. This even though the umpteenth ver­sion of Rahul Gandhi launched dur­ing the Gu­jarat cam­paign 2017 has done quite well so far. But with Hi­machal Pradesh also slated to slip out of Congress hands, there is clearly no win­ning poll strat­egy in place.

What can a Rahul Gand­hiled Congress wrest away from Modi go­ing for­ward? Can it draw blood with his harp­ing on lack of jobs, farmer sui­cides and low growth? Is it wait­ing to ben­e­fit from Modi’s mis­takes? While much of this is true enough, will peo­ple be­lieve that Rahul can do bet­ter?

Still, those in the rul­ing com­bine that ridicule a gaffe-prone Rahul Gandhi and are cock­sure of their chances, may be as mis­guided as Congress rak­ing up the chai­wala image yet again. It is a fact that Modi and his gov­ern­ment have not been able to ful­fil quite a few of their elec­tion prom­ises. And yet, the vot­ing pub­lic, from all ac­counts, has ac­cepted the pain of struc­tural changes, in­spired by the un­tir­ing ef­forts of a squeaky clean Prime Min­is­ter and his Cab­i­net.

The Modi gov­ern­ment has not, how­ever, scored very high on gov­er­nance. Much that has been ac­com­plished is per­ceived to have been rammed through by Modi per­son­ally. Is the BJP then seen as low on “bench strength”, com­pared to the Congress, even a mostly un­tried new one?

It some­times seems that way, de­spite the pres­ence of a num­ber of good min­is­ters such as Sushma Swaraj (who steered the ICJ win re­cently), Nitin Gad­kari, Piyush Goyal, a ter­rif­i­cally suc­cess­ful party pres­i­dent in Amit Shah, and a de­ter­mined Arun Jait­ley. But what about the dozens of oth­ers on board who pre­sum­ably also serve? For­tu­nately, Modi has the ide­o­log­i­cal back­ing and ap­pro­ba­tion of the stal­warts in Nagpur. This helps him ig­nore vo­cif­er­ous and se­nior dis­si­dents, and un­civilised fringe el­e­ments, out to em­bar­rass.

All this is ap­par­ent to the pub­lic too, along­side the good things done. There is vast in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment un­der­way, OROP was set­tled after 40 years in limbo, the 7th Pay Com­mis­sion was ex­e­cuted smoothly, some direct tax re­form was done for the low­est rung of tax pay­ers. Then, the fis­cal deficit and in­fla­tion have been ad­mirably con­trolled, the be­nami and bank­ruptcy laws were passed. The vast mil­lions of the un­banked were in­cluded, the Aad­har card was used ex­ten­sively to iden­tify and link the pop­u­lace to a largely dig­i­tal sys­tem. There is much greater pro­vi­sion of elec­tric­ity and cook­ing gas to the masses. Gov­ern­ment wel­fare pro­grammes are be­ing ef­fec­tively im­ple­mented and ad­min­is­tered. But petrol and diesel re­mains hor­ri­bly over-taxed.

There is a feel­ing though, that much more re­form is to come, and Modi must be given the chance to bring it about. But what can Modi do in the re­main­ing time to ef­fect a re­sound­ing en­core in 2019?

Sort­ing out the Ram Mandir at Ay­o­d­hya, fes­ter­ing for 21 years, will be a proud mo­ment, if it comes through. Re­mov­ing J&K’s spe­cial sta­tus under Ar­ti­cle 35A and 370 will be very well re­ceived, par­tic­u­larly after con­fronting the Hur­riyat and elim­i­nat­ing nearly 200 ter­ror­ists this year. Modi has al­ready warmed the cock­les of pa­tri­otic In­dian hearts by smack­ing Pak­istan with the sur­gi­cal strikes and by stand­ing up to China over OBOR and Dok­lam. Still, the mid­dle­classes, the traders, small to medium business in the un­or­gan­ised sec­tor, in­dus­try, real es­tate, all feel ig­nored and let down.

Can Modi ur­gently ad­dress th­ese sec­tions of the dis­af­fected? Can he do some­thing to elicit cheers from them too in the com­ing Union bud­get 2018? And he needs to do this as a self-starter, not after be­ing mocked and goaded by Rahul Gandhi. Un­for­tu­nately, the re­duc­tion of GST du­ties hap­pened after a pro­longed pe­riod of Gandhi call­ing it the “Gab­bar Singh Tax”. Modi’s lurch to­wards the poor also came about after Gandhi char­ac­terised the Modi gov­ern­ment as a “Suit Boot Sarkar”.

No fur­ther David strikes should be al­lowed by Go­liath, if he knows what’s good for him.

Omar Ab­dul­lah

Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia

Rahul Gandhi

Akhilesh Ya­dav

Sachin Pi­lot

Te­jaswi Ya­dav

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