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The curious case of the reluctant leader

Published : Jun 18, 2019, 3:04 am IST
Updated : Jun 18, 2019, 3:07 am IST

Punjab is the only State that continues to endorse the Congress, responding more to the local chieftain.

A file photograph of the Gandhi family.
 A file photograph of the Gandhi family.

The Congress is in disarray. Trounced at the polls nearly as badly as in 2014, they blame it on the BJP campaign. They blame the Election Commission, which may indeed have played an overtly partisan role. They blame the EVMs although they are the same machines that voted them in, quite surprisingly, in 2009. The party’s first family has blamed just about  everything except their own leadership.

The Gandhis are the sacred cows and they are not to be blamed for the defeat. Their ivory tower existence was breached by the need to get down and dirty and fight the do-or-die campaign of 2019. They did that, but without being psychologically prepared to face defeat.  They are not sore losers so much as churlish ones like their leaders were seen to be last week when Priyanka Gandhi was out there in the open defending the family and condemning the world, but not themselves.

A vibrant democracy is predicated upon a strong opposition. But, post a second consecutive general election, the Congress does not have the numbers of its own to claim the privilege of the Opposition Leader in the House. This is not a privilege as much as a claim to responsibility to lead the benches against those of the Treasury in meaningful debates on the floor of the House. One of the reasons for the single point agenda of the Opposition in Parliament being obstructionism is the lack of clear leadership.

 Blaming the cadres is easy enough, which is what Priyanka did. Brought out from cold storage into the middle of the campaign as the family’s secret weapon, the youngest Gandhi did little to stem the tide, despite the optimism that the media saw in her. A physical resemblance to her grandmother India Gandhi, as the hoi polloi tended to see it, was insufficient to make any difference to the political tide that had turned against the Gandhis in the national poll just months after a promising performance in three Hindi heartland states in Assembly elections.

Why blame a political lightweight when her brother was the one in the spotlight. The true arrival of Rahul on the political scene was hailed in the aftermath of the verdicts in Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh. He was the Messiah leading his tribe to the promised land and to national political power once again. His reaction to the verdict in wishing to quit leading his party was logical enough.

He was owning up to the defeat and surrendering the very title bestowed on him by a doting mother who, however, clung to the chair for longer than necessary before allowing the promotion, probably for health reasons.

The current uncertainty over whether Rahul Gandhi will continue to lead the party as its President or not is not helping the Congress either. The only thing certain post-polls is the party now has a reluctant leader who would like to give up the post if the family would allow the dynastic rule to be broken again.

The previous occasion on which a non-Gandhi headed the party was soon after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination when the family was reluctant to stay on in politics. It took about seven years for those swearing by the dynasty to convince Sonia to come back and head the party after the Narasimha Rao term got over.

If Rahul is really setting accountability as the norm and insists on stepping down as party president and throwing the post open to contestants, he would have to do that soon enough to ensure there would be no more erosion of credibility. It is strange that while he seemed to have no time for party affairs during his self imposed absence, he still met the maverick Navjot Sidhu. That may have given quite the wrong signal to the one man who is keeping the Congress flag flying - Amarinder Singh.

 Punjab is the only State that continues to endorse the Congress, responding more to the local chieftain. The Kerala result was due to the Sabarimala issue anger benefitting the Congress and in Tamil Nadu the pro-DMK, anti-BJP wave helped the party land some seats to make up numbers to pass the measly 2014 low.

It is typical of the dynastic core of the party, supported by those who have no base of their own and cling to the family, that a strong regional chief like Amarinder should be played around with in the matter of the unmanageable Sidhu who had consorted with the AAP before landing up with the Congress after ditching the BJP.

 It will be interesting to see if the Rahul Gandhi resignation drama will go like the internet joke about “Rahul Gandhi requesting Rahul Gandhi to guide the Congress which Rahul Gandhi will accept and thank Rahul Gandhi for reposing faith in Rahul Gandhi.” Things have to come to such a pass that no one else can decide for the long-time heir apparent who has been in the president’s seat of India’s oldest political party long enough to have to take the decision himself on whether to stay or go.

Tags: priyanka gandhi, rahul gandhi