Rahul’s Future Is In His Hands
Is he competent to hold high offices or lead a 125-year-old national party, does he know his political priorities and ethos in different regions and is he well-equipped in state art -craft to govern this country as his three generations had been, cornering the position of prime minster for almost 55 years in total of 78 years? His recent TV interview by Arnab Goswami on Times Now, a popular news channel, and the discussions that followed it were a curtain-raiser that revealed the unstated desire of his party for him, the fourth generation Nehru-Gandhi to become India’s prime minister.
And at the same time, it revealed the chinks in his personality, which were palpably evident during the 80-minute-long interview and disappointed even his faithful Congress leaders. According to sources, campaign managers and most senior leaders believe that his and the party’s image have been dented among the urban middle class and the youth. But Rahul’s media managers intend to continue to fix his interviews for they feel that the exposure would do him well.
But then they would have to go back to the drawing board to buck him up. Usually a reserved Business Standard was scathingly critical. “There were questions and there were answers, but there was barely a connection between the two. Rahul Gandhi’s debut sit-down interview to Times Now was a debacle to put it kindly.
“If the anchor started by asking for a pledge to be specific, Gandhi ensured he was anything but–‘Women empowerment’, ‘democracy’, ‘RTI’ and ‘systemic change’ were catchphrases that played almost in a loop, finding their way abundantly in Gandhi’s answers. But he ducked more serious questions on corruption (Adarsh, Virbhadra Singh, getting political parties under the RTI ambit), refused to apologise for 1984, stuttered sloppily on 2002 and feebly expressed confidence that the Congress was battle ready for 2014.
“It was always going to be a tough fight, but after this interview things have possibly gotten much harder for Gandhi.” Quite a damning verdict!
To give him the benefit of doubt, it is possible that Rahul, who, for the media, had until now behaved like the reclusive Greta Garbo, was nervous in his first exposure to the country. But after nearly nine years in politics his sweating, nervousness and seldom making eye-to-eye contact give little confidence in his leadership qualities.
Preparations for the interview were, according to sources, took a week during which Goswami submitted questions. It was reportedly decided that after the recording of the interview it would be sent to Rahul’s media managers and on their approval it could be telecast after 48 hours. Why could his advisers not spot the weakness’ of Rahul?
His long pauses, his silence while thinking answers to every difficult question, occasionally disjointed responses, the nervous look and trying to give evasive replies to questions about corruption and poor record of his party gave him the appearance of a lonely boy, helpless and lonely. He looked like a dejected person certain of his doom and not a doughty soldier out to win the battle. The interview also exposed his lack of comprehension of important issues like economy, foreign policy, all important issues which a prime minister oversees.
It was pits when Rahul ‘lied’ about the 1984 riots. He would not have remembered much, being then around 14 of age. So he must have been wrongly briefed which put him on the dock, for no fault of his, although this would mean that he has not read even history of recent happenings. This is a disgrace. A man ‘destined’ to be prime minister does not care to know about politics of at least last 50 years.
On the question of comparing the 1984 and 2002 riots, he said there could be no comparison. In 2002, the government abetted in the killings of innocent in the minority community, but the government in 1984—in effect Rajiv government—was not abetting or aiding the riots. Of course not! Possibly news about rioting in Delhi was censored from Rajiv. As for 2002 Gujarat riots, since I do not have any knowledge, one has to let pass what he said about them. He must have inside information about the riots there, being about 32 years of age. He was entering his teens in 1984.
But in Delhi, how is it that there was no curfew, no lathi-charge or tear gas fired and according to official estimates thousands of Sikhs died? Chandrashekhar told me sitting in his cottage he had erected in his South Avenue ground flat that all seasoned politicians like him were fooled and sympathised and agreed with “Rajiv” when he said that when a banyan tree falls earth shakes.
But now when “we realise that no curfew was imposed, no lathi-charge or tear gas was resorted to, and it was free for all to do whatever they wanted,“ he said, adding that they all were fooled. One recalls the half-burnt two-wheelers lying on the main road of the South Extension Part 1 and Part 2. In a lane, shops were on fire–they all belonged to Sikhs. Despite such a mayhem not a single police officers was present.
There could be some logical justification (?) for mismanaging the law and order situation but one does not know about it. And why were the cases against senior Congress leaders, could anyone dare do anything without knowing that their High Command would look away? Also what about women’s empowerment? Will his allies like Lalu Yadav allow? So why promise?
Against such a backdrop, the question is what does future hold for Rahul Gandhi? It is rather hazardous to envisage. He started off with the advantage of a scion of the Dynasty. All VIP facilities were available to him. And he used them.
He said he believed that revival of his party was only possible–if it could be revived in UP, so he could focus on the state. But after over four years the party’s weaknesses are still there. Pollsters predict the Congress would vie with Mulayam Singh for the fourth position in the general elections. He promised to raise a cadre of one million volunteers in UP. Where are they? No one can say.
He was hailed the torch-bearer for the revival of the Congress not only in UP but all over, following the party winning 206 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2009. But now estimate ranges between 50 and 70. What a downslide! And who is responsible for it?
Rahul might be in charge of the campaign but he does not have any credible or popular leader except one or two states to help him. And it is humanly impossible for Rahul to campaign and also organise for taking voters to polling booths. It is this weakness which would cost the party a large number of seats and his prime ministership.
If he fails in this election does he have any future? There are two points to consider first. If the party is reduced to a rump, it could split. Congressmen’s loyalty is to the leader who can get them elected. The only prospect of his becoming prime minister is if his party gets 70 or 80 seats, Modi fails to get enough seats to make it inevitable for other parties to ally with BJP, then the ‘secular’ parties would join the alliance with Congress. Since it would have more numbers, Rahul would be PM.
But as per the the long-term policy, which one feels, Rahul could adopt to wait until 2019. In five years, he could work to resurrect the party in states. His grandmother started downgrading state leaders so that they would not challenge her son Sanjay. Her successor Rajiv, father of Rahul, did not revert to propping up state satraps for promoting the party in their respective states but managed them through his friends and advisers in Delhi.
He lost the next election after record victory in the earlier election. PV Narasimha Rao initially tried restoring inner democracy in the party but later concentrated more on liberalisation. Sonia Gandhi tightened her control over the Congress, the result is that Rahul has hardly any credible leaders in states who could have helped in campaigning in their respective states and then organised voters to be persuaded to go to polling booths. This is a major, almost unsurmountable hurdle, considering that the general elections are hardly 90 days away.
Rahul faces many other odds–and his mother with over 15 years in the thick of Indian politics, who is experienced enough—might not as much as her mother-in-law—to sense the direction of the–political wind, realises. She knows that the people are very angry with it in particular as it is the one that leads the UPA government.
High inflation, rise in prices of vegetables and all other items connected with cooking, rising crime against women and the spate of corruption which people believe embroils ministers, all have made people impatient to get rid of the present dispensation.
And then there is the sudden emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which in Delhi Assembly election almost annihilated the Congress, from majority rule for 15 tears, to just eight legislator. This added to the worry over the fast rising popularity graph of Narendra Modi. All surveys about who voters would prefer as prime minister, Modi scored almost double of Rahul. AAP added to Mrs Gandhi’s headache.
Rahul should know what a gigantic and daunting task he has been assigned. One must say that all the odds stacked against him have not affected his ardour to fight and overcome some, if not all the handicaps. He has done well to start with getting views of the people in 25 plus constituencies as to who they prefer to be their candidates. This he has copied from AAP, the tactics of which he admired when he spoke after the party’s bashing in the Delhi Assembly elections. The experiment is sure to give some seats more than otherwise expected. But, he would still need credible persons to persuade voters to go to the polling booths. Hopefully, he would first try the AAP system in the Congress-ruled states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.
His other task to at least secure more number of seats than his party’s ‘protege’ Aam Aadmi Party’s could be fulfilled. In this effort, he has been helped by AAP leader and Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal. Since his dharna on the road at Rail Bhavan, AAP’s urban middle class and youth are very frustrated with the agitational approach of Kejriwal. AAP’s presence in rural constituencies is almost zero.
His next hurdle is BJP. It has a huge cadre, RSS’s and Baba Ramdev’s put together the number exceeds three hundred thousand. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar send 130 seats. In UP, the veteran election organisational tactician is Amit Shah while in Bihar the BJP leader Sushil Modi has worked quietly to reach each and every constituency. The JD(U) of Nitish Kumar is in doldrums , the BJP’s challenge, albeit very weak, would be from Congress-RJD-RLD combine. In UP, SP is discredited irrevocably, the only challenge would come from Mayawati. The estimate is that the BJP could get 80 to 90 seats.
Rahul Gandhi would have to match his oratory and knowledge of regions like that of Modi. Rolling up the sleeves and talking negatively of rivals have so far won him no voters.
The last but crucial question is, does Rahul Gandhi have staying power, if Congress gets a drubbing at the elections? Has he the patience and the courage to fight and raise his party from the ashes? So far he draws his strength from his mother and unquestioned obeisance of his party men. Both might not be available to him post-election. Rahul would discover to his dismay that he has been deserted and he has no VIP facilities. Is he strong enough to withstand both physically and mentally such swirling of bad tidings around him?
Rahul could decide to quit the hurly-burly of politics and rather enjoy like other filthy rich young. But if he decides to stick to politics, he would have to read the chapter of his family history from 1977 to 1980 when his uncle Sanjay fought even street battles to bring his mother back to power. His revival war could give Rahul the wherewithal to resurrect the 128-year-old party.