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  360 Degree   10 Dec 2017  Rahul Gandhi: Reluctant suitor, but

Rahul Gandhi: Reluctant suitor, but

The writer is director of the Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, a leading Indian think tank. Email: sathiyam54@gmail.com.
Published : Dec 10, 2017, 6:01 am IST
Updated : Dec 10, 2017, 6:02 am IST

Media analysis on the national electoral scene continues to be centred on a BJP-Congress spat, reduced to a Modi-Rahul duel.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (Photo: PTI)

Is it the best time, or the worst for Congress Party to have Rahul Gandhi take over as party president, in form, content and the sheer timing of it all? It is a two-edged sword. If the BJP lost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native Gujarat even if it were to win Himachal Pradesh in this month’s Assembly polls, the party will hail Rahul. If the Congress lost both, it would only be a repeat of the party’s electoral misfortunes since 2014, to which no one can add on Rahul’s name-tag as if it were new. In the ever-changing States-centric national scenario, it would then remain to be seen if either way, it would impact on next year's Karnataka polls, and later Election-2019 to the Lok Sabha, which is as crucial for the Congress and Rahul as it is for the BJP and more so for PM Modi personally.

Media analysis on the national electoral scene continues to be centred on a BJP-Congress spat, reduced to a Modi-Rahul duel. But Elections-96 showed the surprises in store for the nation, and Elections-2004 was a surprise for the ruling BJP-NDA of the time, and also for pollsters and media analysts alike. Between them, they throw up the question if Rahul is still the best bet for the Congress, and for the anti-BJP Opposition to rally round - or, if the nation would throw up further surprises as in 1996, where a non-BJP, anti-Congress coalition came to power, even if with the latter's backing.

If nothing else, Congress has been reduced to the status of a 'residual party', where it could hope only to win seats that do not otherwise go either to the BJP or the latter’s NDA allies, or those like the ruling AIADMK, TDP and the TRS that it has been eyeing in the South. The ground situation is much different from 1996 and even 2004 as the BJP continues to be way ahead of the diverse and at times divided ‘Opposition pack’ in most States.

‘Fulcrum’ party
Just as they cannot accept Congress’ dominance of the past, its intended allies even in non-traditional States like Tamil Nadu (which has since come to include UP, Bihar, West Bengal among the biggies), they cannot also ignore the party or whatever vote-share it can account for, more especially if BJP's 'Hindutva card' becomes a bigger electoral issue than in 2014, or even in 1998-99.

The Congress can provide the fulcrum for parties like the SP and BSP to work together in UP, for instance, and maybe even the Trinamool and the Left to be seen even remotely together in West Bengal - all in the name of 'secularism'. Even Lalu Yadav in Bihar, while not wanting to give the Congress the status of a major ally, would want the party's vote, and pro-Muslim, pro-Dalit image to work wonders for him.

More than all this, they all want the BJP and Modi to go, if they would help it. They may want the Congress to help, too.

Reluctant suitor
More than Congress men and the pro- or anti-Congress media, PM Modi and the BJP-centric social media are making more news of Rahul Gandhi, by calling him Aurangazeb and more. Maybe, they want the focus away from Modi and his 'development agenda' for once, and from what was sought to be a positive campaign, they are now turning to Rahul Gandhi, for a negative campaign.

For all this, however, Rahul Gandhi was a reluctant suitor through the 10 years that the Congress chanced to return to power since 2004. He would not accept any ministerial role to prepare him for larger tasks which the party had concluded in advance, awaited him, even if it was not that of the Prime Minister, where inexperience stood out in the case of his slain father, Rajiv Gandhi.

That was an election that Sonia Gandhi had won for the party, despite a decade-long campaign on the issue of her 'foreign origin', including a court case or two. As the poll results showed, the issue did not touch the aam aadhmi, who happily voted out the BJP-NDA at the time --- just as he would vote for Modi's acche din a decade later, but with a difference.

Dynasty or what
Though Modi had seemingly vowed not to appear in Lutyens' Delhi before becoming PM, whatever the attendant inadequacies, his success stories as Gujarat CM had preceded him all the same. No such hope for Rahul, no such luck for the Congress. If anything, only the 'dynasty talk' has returned to the centre-stage, whether or not that would impact on elections in the country - especially if we were to concede that it was not an issue anytime in the past, outside of editorial rooms and TV Talk-shows, if one left out the BJP and social media critics.

The question still begs an answer: Can a democracy accept 'dynastic succession' of the Congress kind, especially when compared to such other 'national parties' like the BJP and the CPM in particular, whatever be the continued electoral and political relevance of the latter? It is bad practice, but not necessarily bad politics, especially if the leader could win elections for the party -- or even bad in law.

It is the mid-course that no one in any party wants to face, of the leader not winning enough for the party. After the total rout that the Congress faced in Elections-2014, no one wanted to take Rahul's place, leave alone challenging him. Even if the BJP-Modi duo could help Congress revive itself, even if Rahul could not do it for the party, then there would be as much criticism of his leadership as there may be acolytes.

But in the reverse, the argument - though not put forth by the Congress at any time in the past - should relate to the Vajpayee-Advani duo dominating the BJP from the later years of the Jan Sangh, when they got Balraj Madhok and the rest out, and getting automatically and alternatively getting elected to the top party position, as if by will. No one protested at the time. No one is questioning the Modi-Amit Shah duo in the BJP since. Again it is an internal affair of the party, but then when it comes to elections in and across the country, the voter is the master. For the voter, dynasty is still an issue, but not the only issue - or, so would it seem.

Tags: narendra modi, rahul gandhi, assembly polls