POLITICS

Why It Is Getting Harder To Take Rahul Gandhi Seriously

The BJP has shown that it can out-Congress the Congress at its own game.

14/03/2017 3:51 PM IST | Updated 14/03/2017 4:59 PM IST
Altaf Hussain / Reuters

Sandeep Dikshit, member of the Congress party and former Member of Parliament, is getting a lot of media attention for daring to (almost) say what cannot be said in his party. That the Congress is a party in decline. It is a party without leaders. It is a party bereft of ideas. Its base has been eroded. Dikshit also laid out a six-step plan for the revival of the Congress.

1.Get rid of the "deadwood".

2. Build a "strong youth cadre".

3.Re-articulate its ideology and "pluralist values".

4.Stress a "socio-democratic" India.

5.Keep interests of farmers, workers and the common man in mind rather than "unbridled flow of capital" to corporates.

6.Connect with the masses through "inclusive programmes related to education and healthcare."

Of course, Dikshit has an axe to grind. His mother Sheila Dikshit was initially put up as a prospective Chief Ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh before Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav did their youth tie-up.

Dikshit feels his mother was treated badly but why anyone thought that Sheila Dikshit, the epitome of Lutyens Delhi, could capture the imagination of a far more rural and small-town UP electorate is mind boggling. In fact, some would say that Sheila Dikshit, despite her long record in Delhi, is now part of this "deadwood" her son is talking about.

But the real problem is one that cannot be uttered by party leaders — Rahul Gandhi. Ultimately, this is a story about how, despite his best efforts, the Congress yuvraj just fails to connect with the electorate. He is the 'youth leader' who cannot build the youth cadre, who cannot inspire and whose electoral alliances seem to drag its partners down, whether it is the Samajwadi Party in UP or the Left Front in West Bengal. If it's not careful, the Congress alliance will start to be feared as the kiss of death.

Ultimately, that goes back to the Rahul problem. Even Dikshit carefully threads the needle there.

Ultimately that goes back to the Rahul problem. Even Dikshit carefully threads the needle there.

"Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi being the leader of the party, who represents the youth of this country, also has to share some responsibility. I am not saying he should be blamed for the electoral debacle. As he has absolute power within the party, he can lead the change," he said.

But in the Congress, the top leaders only pay lip service to responsibility. They accept responsibility but in a party that's a family business it is a responsibility without any consequences. And Rahul Gandhi's statements indicate that there's very little responsibility to be taken.

"We are in opposition, you have ups and downs and we had a little down in UP, we accept it," Rahul Gandhi told the media, according to ANI News. In his world, it's a "little down". What should worry Rahul and the Congress even more is how swiftly and easily the BJP wrested power in Manipur and Goa under the nose of the Congress.

It is clear that for the smaller players in Manipur and Goa, it made more pragmatic sense to ally with an ascendant BJP rather than the declining Congress. That was the writing on the wall. There was much more to gain from tying up with the party in power at the Centre than a party that was increasingly looking like a political has-been led by a leader who has repeatedly come up short in the polls.

Elections always have winners and losers. But what Manipur and Goa showed was that there was no confidence in Rahul Gandhi ever being a winner in the near future. How many chances can even a Gandhi get?

Worse, as veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai points out on his blog, the kingmakers in both states were former Congressmen. Assam's Himanta Biswa Sarma managed the Manipur strategy for the BJP. He was former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi's right hand man who felt he was being sidelined when Gogoi's son Gaurav came into the picture.

What Manipur and Goa showed was that there was no confidence in Rahul Gandhi ever being a winner in the near future.

In Goa, Vijai Sardesai had tried to tie up with the Congress but was kept waiting indefinitely and then rebuffed. "A Congress of an earlier era would have embraced a Sarma or a Sardesai as their future but a High Command-led feudal party which is comatose has little space for those who wear their ambitions on their sleeve," writes Sardesai.

Rahul has again tried to take some kind of moral high road. "Our fight is against BJP's ideology, what they did in Manipur and Goa is exactly the ideology we are fighting against," Rahul told the media. But that sanctimonious piety is an ill-fitting suit for the Congress since this was the party that gave us Aaya Ram Gaya Ram politics.

If today they accuse the BJP of being Mr Moneybags, that's what a cash-rich Congress of yore once did as well. And, if now Sandeep Dikshit complains that the governors are acting as agents of BJP, that's a time honoured Congress tradition of installing pliant governors especially in states ruled by opposition parties.

But that sanctimonious piety is an ill-fitting suit for the Congress since this was the party that gave us aaya Ram gaya Ram politics.

One such governor, Ramlal helped Indira Gandhi dismiss NT Rama Rao's Telugu Desam ministry in 1984 after the Congress engineered a revolt in the regional party. Indira Gandhi's personal security officer B L Joshi was such a loyal family retainer that he was sent as governor to Uttar Pradesh. Rajiv Gandhi too followed suit rewarding loyalty with plum posts.

When the AICC(I) general secretary was appointed governor of Bihar, he looked at Rajiv Gandhi gratefully and said "I swear I will have the same commitment to you as I had to Nehru and Indira Gandhi."

Thus it's hard to take the Congress seriously with its new-found moral high ground about governors becoming agents of the centre, horse trading and throwing money around. It's an old Congress game. The BJP has shown that it can out-Congress at its own game.

The BJP has shown that it can out-Congress at its own game.

Rahul Gandhi will have to realize that while there is need to clean house in his party, everything he accuses the BJP of, has been done at some point or the other by his father or grandmother.

Once the Gandhis were the Congress' cash cow, their electoral asset. Now the party is stuck in a Gandhi trap. Everyone knows it. Dikshit is inching towards saying it. But who will finally bell the cat?

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