State polls a litmus test for Rahul, not Modi
Whatever the outcome on 11 December, it is no predictor of 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Those hoping that the outcome of the polls in the five states will, at long last, bestow the mantle of a national leader on the Congress president Rahul Gandhi are set to be disappointed on Tuesday, 11 December. For, all indications are that the results may well be a mixed bag, denying a clear sweep to either party. Rahul Gandhi requires a glorious win in the three Hindi heartland states to convince the sceptics, whose number multiples every time he opens his mouth to commit a gaffe, that he indeed is leader material. Otherwise, he is condemned to continue as Mama’s darling, nominated to the headship of the familyowned party, with everyone in it expected to bow and scrape before him.
Days when the presidentship of the Congress was enough to make you a na- tional leader have long gone. Now, the deepening of the democratic process over the last seven decades coupled with rising awareness, thanks partly to the mushrooming of the media, and ever-growing aspirations mean that the voters can no longer be taken for granted. Grassroots workers without any claim to social or political pedigree can hope to rise in the political firmament and push well-established dynasts to the margins of the polity, making them virtually irrelevant.
As usual, the exit polls throw up a confusing picture. But if you were to look at the campaign, it was clear that the Congress party missed a golden opportunity. In Rajasthan, despite a strong anti-Vasundhara Raje feeling at the ground level, she was allowed to recover in the last couple of weeks, partly because the ModiShah duo shed their antipathy towards Her Haughty Highness to accord priority to the party. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP had accumulated a lot of popular grievance in the last 15 years—who doesn’t? This ought to have served as a powerful platform for the Congress to build on to mount a credible challenge.
Instead of offering a clear alternative, all that Rahul’s Congress did in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is that it stole the BJP’s cow to claim the mantle of a new BJP. People normally spurn copy- cat offerings. Besides, Rahul’s thrust all through the campaign remained on Narendra Modi, trying desperately to float the punctured Rafale balloon, harping on the alleged failings of the Central government, while the voters expected the local issues concerning their everyday lives addressed. Notably, the benign food prices denied the challenger a key line of attack.
The failure of Rahul to establish an emotional chord with the voter stemmed not only from his own poor image, but his obsessive attacks on Modi seemed counterproductive. In an age when parties commission surveys to poll popular opinion on issues and rivals, the Congress failed to realise that Modi’s connect with the people continues to be strong. Even those who intended to vote against the BJP volunteered that upar to vote Modi ko hi denge. In short, Rahul erred in singling out Modi for vicious personal attack while skipping local issues.
Which brings me to my central point. Were the BJP to fare badly in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, unlikely going by the exit polls, this will have little or no bearing on the national polls a few months from now. These polls are no predictors of the outcome in the next Lok Sabha elections. But Rahul’s stock will diminish further should the Congress not win Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh convincingly. We will keep our fingers crossed till Tuesday. Why would a power distribution company be interested in checking your voter ID card? Well, if you live in Delhi, anything can happen. Having decided that the Election Commission of India is his enemy, Arvind Kejriwal has not only taken to undermining its authority, but has devised his own independent ways to vet the voter lists. Children in Delhi government-run schools are made to furnish the electoral cards of their families against the specific direction of the Election Commission. The ECI alone is empowered to carry out such an exercise. Now, the local power distribution company has been roped in for screening the voters’ list in middle-class colonies.
Meanwhile, every time one of his ministers is charged with financial racketeering, Kejriwal defends him, arguing that the action was meant to prevent him from “serving the people of Del- hi”. Instead of explaining how the errant ministers came to possess assets far in excess of their declared income.
Which brings us to Robert Vadra. The son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi too resorts to Kejriwalesque reasoning, issuing political statements against the Income Tax and the Enforcement Directorate when all that the latter want him to do is to explain his overnight riches. Instead of shouting political vendetta or witch-hunt, simply explain how land bought for Rs 70 lakh per hectare was sold overnight for Rs 6 crore in Rajasthan to a company whose income tax troubles were resolved simultaneously? A clear case of quid pro quo, isn’t it? Anyone remotely familiar with Rajasthan politics would recall the name of Khumba Ram Arya. A freedom fighter and prominent Jat politician, he died in 1995. In his later years, he had got so fed up with the Congress party that he made common cause with a host of antiCongress parties. Yet, the Jats in Rajasthan hold him in high regard. On the eve of the 2013 Assembly elections, the outgoing Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had named an irrigation lift scheme in the name of the late Jat leader.
Now cut to 2018. The other day, addressing a public rally in Khumba Ram Arya’s home district, Sikar, with Gehlot and other senior party leaders on the stage, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, is seen consulting a slip of paper before saying, “…In 2013, Ashok Gehlotji ney ek Kumbhakaran lift scheme chalu ki thi…” Immediately, some in the crowd seek to correct the Congress chief, Rahul looks back, and again repeats “Khumbhakaran”, before being corrected again. Now he says, “kya, achha, Kumbha Ram scheme.”
Even a parrot would do better. Really, a hopeless case, this wannabe Prime Minister, sir. The other day, a photograph in a local daily caught my attention. The caption read: Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Abhishek Manu Singhvi at a panel discussion organised by the All India Professionals’ Congress. Didn’t know such a Congress existed, given that we already have in the Congress party one of the biggest congregations of professionals, albeit of another kind.
The point I wanted to make was different. Which parent would commend to his children to embrace one of the above-listed gentlemen as his or her moral exemplar, a role model, if you please? I can hardly think of anyone, unless of course the modernday aspirations are limited to money-making divorced from any connect with morality of any sort.