by Nilofar Suhrawardy 23 June 2019
If Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi sticks to his decision of resigning as the party president, prospects of it spelling a better political future for either him or his party may be viewed as non-existent. His decision is likely to be most heartily welcomed by his party’s key rival party, that is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is primarily because Rahul’s resignation is expected to weaken the Congress further, even lead to intra-party fighting and also cause it split. The reasons are not far too seek. Irrespective of whoever takes over the party’s presidentship, if he/she is not from the Gandhi family, the person is not likely to receive much support from other party members. Quite a few members may be expected to grieve over the fact that they were not considered for this position. Congress witnessed this internal crisis following the assassination of his father, the then party president, Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv was assassinated on May 21, 1991, while campaigning for his party in Tamil Nadu. His wife, Sonia Gandhi decided to join politics and take over as party president in 1998 only when the intra-Congress crisis was proving politically dangerous for the party’s future.
Against this backdrop, Rahul needs to give serious thought to his stand and his party’s political future. It must also be accepted that as a human being, political attitude displayed by Rahul following parliamentary verdict is not much of a surprise. After Congress gave BJP a strong fight in several assembly elections ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Rahul expected his party to win more seats. The only consolation is that Congress-led coalition has improved its performance marginally, winning 52 seats in comparison to 44 the party won in 2014 parliamentary elections. At the same time, it may be noted; it is too early for him and others to expect him to spell great wonders for his party, spelling its return to power. After all, Rahul was handed charge of his party as the president less than two years ago.
It is impossible for a new political entrant to turn all political cards at play in favor of his party within such a short period of time. Besides, recent history has been witness to the rise of numerous regional and other parties marking socio-cultural divisions in Indian society. These hard realities cannot be de-linked from Indian politics. India has the second largest population with a multi-plural culture, divided along with regional, religious, tribal, casteist, economic and numerous other divisions. Once, India could boast of single-party dominance, with Congress heading the national government. That was the phase when divisions in the Indian community had not made their mark in Indian politics, with a multi-party system becoming more dominant. In the present Lok Sabha, while BJP has the maximum number of seats, at least three dozen parties are represented in the 545-member House.
Though Rahul has been in politics- as a Member of Parliament from 2004, he became the party president only in December 2017. A congress-led alliance headed the government from 2004 to 2009 and 2009-2013 with Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. During both the terms, Rahul chose to remain largely in the background. He was not projected then as the key leader. At least such an impression was created. It is possible, with his mother, Sonia Gandhi heading the Congress and also the party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the timing was not viewed as appropriate by Rahul to get too actively involved in party politics.
Undeniably, Rahul’s active involvement has been more visible since he was handed charge of the party. His ability to interact with media persons, answer questions and similar moves are better than most others amongst his political rivals. But the electoral verdict indicates that the communication strategy of Congress has not been able to match that of BJP. Congress has apparently not devoted as much time and energy as needed to push BJP out of power. BJP has definitely not ignored this aspect. Let us accept it; however much noise is being made of BJP’s return to power because of “Modi-wave,” it has certainly not been accomplished overnight and/or in a few months. Saffron cadre of the party has been engaged for several years in spreading “news” about Modi’s “accomplishments.” During this period, they also appear to have made considerable noise against Rahul’s capability as a leader. He has been projected as a “weak” leader. Clearly, this was a part of their strategy to prevent Congress led by Rahul to assume power at the center.
Not much importance appears to have been given to unethical nature of the anti-Rahul campaign. Anti-Rahul campaign has undoubtedly played its part in forcing a considerable percentage of voters to believe that nobody else but Modi can head the government. Paradoxically, BJP didn’t take the risk of targeting most regional leaders. This apparently suggests that the party deliberately did not attack the latter as it did not wish to alienate and/or anger them. BJP did not want to close the option of aligning with them if electoral results necessitated the same. With Congress being a principal rival, there did not and do not exist options of the two parties forming a coalition government at the centre. Not surprising, the saffron brigade went overboard in spreading negative campaign about Rahul and Congress.
Rahul and his party members need to deliberate upon anti-Congress moves played upon by BJP through its saffron cadre for a substantial period of time. Congress workers need to play extra-attention to correct wrong facts spread about Rahul and his parents’ religious identity. Rather than quit leadership, it would be more practical of Rahul to go over weak points, which led to the poor performance of the Congress in comparison to strategies exercised by BJP to return to power. It is not the first time that Congress has faced defeat in parliamentary elections. Rahul’s father was the party president when it lost the 1989 elections. History also stands witness to Rahul’s grandmother, Indira Gandhi as well as uncle, Sanjay Gandhi having lost their seats in 1975 elections. Though known as the Iron Lady, politics did not always spell success, victory, and also a popular phase for her. There was a brief period when she faced trial and was also imprisoned. But the Iron Lady did not give up and returned to power for the third term in 1980. She took electoral failures in her stride and moved on to try her luck again. It would be politically wise of Rahul to do the same.
Rahul needs to take note that even his mother, Sonia did not relinquish her role as the Congress leader simply because other parties refused to accept her as the country’s premier. As mentioned earlier, Rahul’s decision of sticking to his decision to resign would be most heartedly welcomed by his principal opponents. This is what his rivals are hoping for, the total collapse of Congress. It would be equivalent to making political success in the coming days easier for them. Undeniably, Rahul has his freedom and right to decide what he wills. However, his decision to back away within less than two years of taking charge as the party’s president cannot be described as a wise decision. He must not forget the intense fight given by Congress to BJP in several assembly elections held before Lok Sabha polls. They were clearly suggestive of the political potential that his party still retains. It remains his job to revive it by exercising a more effective communication strategy down to the grassroots. In essence, it would be more appropriate if he starts planning for coming assembly polls and also next Lok Sabha polls from right now. But if he remains adamant on not backtracking that would be giving BJP another political triumph for it to gloat over!