Rahul Gandhi’s speeches last week still focussed on the Rafale deal, farmer suicides, agrarian distress, joblessness, corruption and so on.
In the last scene of Raj Kapoor’s much acclaimed film noir, Jagte Raho, after the harrowing ordeal of the whole night, when a thirsty Raj is eventually able to quench his thirst with water being poured down in to his hands by an ethereally angelic Nargis, a bhajan plays in the back ground — Jago mohan pyare jago, nagar sab kaliyan jaagi nagar, nagar... It conveys one of the most sublime messages of hope, optimism and new beginnings.
A couple of years back, when the iconic Rafa Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic for the eighth time in a row, a perplexed journalist asked him: “Rafa, what’s going on?” Ever sporting Rafa gave a disarmingly honest answer: “My game is not hurting him! Even my best isn’t good enough to beat him! I have to reinvent and reset my game, bring in that Extra something to get the better of him.” There is a lesson for Rahul Gandhi if he has a sportsman’s instinct like Nadal.
During the parliamentary elections in 2019, Rahul campaigned vigorously, attacked Narendra Modi relentlessly blaming him for whatever was going wrong in the country. Alas, the results gave Mr Modi a thumping majority. Like Nadal, Rahul should have realised that his best wasn’t good enough to beat the former chaiwala and fierce swayamsevak of the RSS who blunted all the accusations hurled at him with an unending list of decisions taken by him to better the lives of millions of Indians and make India a secure and stronger nation. Many of the failures of Mr Modi mentioned by Rahul might not have been totally untrue but the Indian electorate thought that in spite of everything which his detractors had been saying against him, it was better to give Mr Modi a second chance than to give a first chance to a totally untried Rahul Gandhi. After all, in all the opinion polls on who was most suited to lead the country, Mr Modi always registered a lead of over 24 points over Rahul Gandhi.
If in the sycophantic circles of his advisers, anyone has the courage to be forthright with Rahul Gandhi, he/she should tell him that it’s time for him to reinvent himself and reset his strategy to counter the Modi government with something “Extra” rather than go on repeating the same accusations against the sitting PM that public has heard an umpteen number of times and dismissed with a shrug. Without a brutally frank and honest introspection, the Congress Party stands no chance to ever return to power again. Everybody thinks it’s counterproductive to go on attacking the PM; Rahul Gandhi should listen to such voices.
While commenting on the downturn in the Indian economy, the former PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, had reportedly said, “Before one can fix the economy, one needs a correct diagnosis of its ailments and their causes.” If one were to replace the word, “economy” with “INC”, it would apply equally aptly. The manner in which the oldest political party of India has been operating in the five months since suffering its most humiliating defeat in recent times shows that it has been unable to diagnose correctly its malady. The most earthshaking development that has taken place in the Indian National Congress in the last four-five months has been that its young and purportedly combative president has resigned (veteran leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid put it pithily: “Our leader left us”) and none outside the Gandhi Nehru family has emerged as his successor; so his mother has assumed responsibilities as an interim president!
Rahul Gandhi’s speeches last week still focussed on the Rafale deal, farmer suicides, agrarian distress, joblessness, corruption and so on. It shows that he has neither learnt anything nor forgotten anything!! His recent jibe — Bechendra Modi — accusing Mr Modi of selling off the public sector undertakings and giving them to his friends reflects the same problem – he has no idea how much damage Mani Shankar Aiyar’s derogatory remarks — chaiwala and neech — had caused the Congress Party!
The INC is slowly and surely slipping into coma. When in deep coma, the patient is actually unconscious; totally unaware of what’s going around him/her. But when slipping into coma, one regains spells of consciousness, can recognise faces and sounds but can’t connect them, can’t figure out what is happening and why. The current state of the Congress is quite akin to this state. Bereft of the glue of power and a charismatic leader who could attract the electorate by addressing their concerns and articulating a persuasive and convincing vision, different from that of the present dispensation, and without an inspired and energised cadre that has fire within to fight in spite of setbacks of the recent past, the Congress is likely to meet the same fate in coming state Assembly elections as it did in the parliamentary election in May this year.
In politics, perceptions matter more than the reality. On the eve of the 2014 elections, the UPA-2 government was perceived as reeking with corruption and one deserving to be shown the door. In May 2019, Mr Modi’s persona and articulation of what he had done in five years and his tantalising vision of a “New India” obliterated Rahul’s long list of complaints against the NDA. His repeated accusations of corruption in the Rafale deal and chowkidar chor hai slogan didn’t stick. Nationalistic fervour generated by the Balakot air strikes and solidification of Hindu votes also helped.
Now, armed with the record of 100 days of Modi 2.0 – triple talaq bill, abrogation of the Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir Union territory and the buzz created around the idea of a five trillion dollar economy, lowering of corporate tax and Howdy Modi!, the Modi government is perceived as strong, robust and nationalist, capable of taking tough decisions and ready to protect India against external threats. In state elections, state leaders do matter but Mr Modi matters the most!
In contrast, the Opposition lies in total disarray. There are too many leaders squabbling among themselves, no strong and coherent counternarrative and a demoralised cadre. With several Congress leaders facing court cases, BJP zealots are gleefully projecting it as a party of crooks.
Only Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is smart amid this crisis. With very few cards in his hand, he has put aside, at least for the present, his diatribe against the lieutenant governor and the Centre and unleashed a blitzkrieg of media splashes of his government’s achievements. Besides parading AAP supporters on TV screens claiming to have received zero electricity bills and benefited from mohalla clinics and government schools, his campaigns – Dengue Per Baar, Har Keemat Per Jaan Bachani Hai to save road accident victims and attempts at pollution reduction through the odd-even scheme – resonate with a large number of people. With full page advertisements in national dailies, he has become the most visible face in the National Capital Region after Mr Modi. Rahul can learn a few tricks from Mr Kejriwal. In fact, there may be wisdom latent in the idea of joining hands with him.
The writer is a retired Indian diplomat