Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
May 24, 2019, 01.56 PM
The Congress party is at the crossroads of its 134-year-old existence. Despite a rousing electoral campaign, aided by liberal photo-ops and larger-than-life sound-bytes, it is abundantly clear that Rahul Gandhi is not a saleable commodity.
Had there been anyone else in Rahul’s place, minus a Congress lineage as distinguished as his, he would have long been shown the door and pushed into political oblivion.
However, fact is that Rahul has continued merrily since March 2004 when he first announced his entry into politics. Fifteen years down the line, this is his time of denouement. Where does Congress go from here? Indeed, where does Rahul go from here?
Rahul’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan is going to come haunt him and surely will go down as one of the most ill-conceived pieces of poll-time sloganeering — one that may well have signed the epitaph of India’s oldest political party.
The larger question is whether in an aspirational India, entitlement itself is under the hammer as suddenly, even the lowest of the low is feeling the pangs of empowerment. After all, for over six decades, India has invested in democracy and it has to show somewhere. Birth may no longer be enough to win public office, even though there are political scions who have won elections this time as well.
Since his debut in 2004, Rahul has been held out as the great Congress hope to pull the party’s chestnuts out of the fire. It has not played out that way. The party was vanquished out of India’s most politically crucial state, Uttar Pradesh, in 1989, and it has not come back to the Congress. Thereafter, despite being repeatedly projected as the Congress’ prime ministerial aspirant, Rahul has come a cropper, including in a couple of Assembly elections in UP, where the party has been all but marginalised.
A few years ago, there was hope. From winning 10 Lok Sabha seats in 2004 in UP to 21 out of 80 seats in 2009, there seemed promise, but since then, the Modi tsunami has simply swept aside whatever was left of the fight.
In 2019, it has been no different. This time, the Congress pulled out another supposed ace — Priyanka Gandhi — from its pack of cards to make a dent into proceedings. However, Priyanka’s foray into UP politics in poll 2019 is another classic example of what has gone wrong with Congress politics. First, came the coy announcement — not so much an announcement as a mealy-mouthed hint — that she may contest from Varanasi. It energised a demoralised Congress cadre, lying dormant for decades in the state. But only temporarily. Within days came a less-than-upfront denial that she had no such plans. Potentially, a Modi-Priyanka standoff was a mouth-watering contest, which would have compelled the prime minister to stay put in his constituency, without travelling too much. But the prospect of defeat is simply too much to stomach for the Gandhi family and Priyanka backed out at the last minute.
Congress’s first family is obviously out of touch. Rahul, who had the opportunity of acquiring experience under the Manmohan Singh dispensation as a minister, simply let go of the opportunity — apparently he was made for better things like being prime minister, which has not come to be till now. It would have been a chance of a lifetime to work in a government and see how things function from inside the system. He does not know how a government works, while arch rival Narendra Modi does, having served three terms as Gujarat chief minister.
Likewise, Priyanka backed out from a straight fight against the PM in Varanasi. In the worst case scenario, she would have lost, but the mileage gained would have been worth its weight in gold. For the Gandhi family, no public offices are now given — they will have to fight for it tooth and nail.
Rahul’s rise in the party organisation has been steady. In a reshuffle, he was appointed general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in September 2007. In 2013, he was elevated to the position of party vice-president. But tragically, Congress under his leadership slumped to its lowest-ever tally of 43 Lok Sabha seats. In 2019, it is only an incremental improvement. Rahul’s tally of fancy party designations has led to a corresponding decline in the fortunes of his party.