This is not a case of kicking a guy when he is down. It could infact be a “pick me up”. My concern is not for the Congress Party per se, but for the nation. I write as a concerned citizen. Readers will have seen my previous articles under this column, wherein I had expressed reservations about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. The recent elections have confirmed my worst fears.
I am not particularly worried about the Congress getting decimated, but I am genuinely concerned that there is no Opposition worth the name; to take on Modi, who reportedly has a dictatorial streak. This is bad for the future of the country. Rahul had rather bravely stated that he was ready to sit in the opposition, but now he is actually standing out in the cold!
Now let me go back a bit in time. When Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, greenhorn Rajiv Gandhi was thrust into pole position. At that time Pranab Mukherji had staked his claim to be the Prime Minister. But family sycophants would have none of it, and the family’s distrust of Mukherji has continued down the years. That year Rajiv won a landslide 80% majority in parliament (no doubt due to a sympathy wave); which he squandered in the Bofors imbroglio.
After his tragic assassination in1991, his widow, Sonia, withdrew into solitude. But after a period of introspection she came back in strength, to lead the party. I had reservations about her leadership qualities as well. But in 2004, she was both humble and gracious in victory, wisely choosing Manmohan Singh as her Prime Minister. In a way she was also accepting her own limitations.
Cut to the Presidential elections in 2012. As a citizen I had written to both Sonia and Rahul to elevate the scholarly Manmohan to the Presidency, and to make the politically astute Pranab Mukherji the Prime Minister. We know what happened. Till 2012 the UPA 2 was sailing along pretty well. But in the absence of Mukherji, the Govt and the party floundered. They had nobody of his caliber to manage parliament or the Opposition. Kamal Nath was but a pale shadow of Mukherji. Both Sonia and Rahul were at sea tackling Anna, Kejriwal and the Delhi gang rape case. They just kept losing the plot. Until then Rahul had remained in denial mode, saying that he was just working for the organization.
Come 2014, and suddenly Rahul became the face of the Congress Party, not just on billboards. His ad campaign was a washout. His war room was no match for Modi’s slick and focused campaign. He repeatedly fell into the traps set by Modi.
His slogan of empowerment (sashaktikaran in Hindi) cut no ice with the voters, and became the butt of numerous jokes. His interview to Arnab Goswami on Times Now was an unmitigated disaster. He had beads of sweat on his brow, and had gone pink behind the ears, signs of acute discomfort. I caught a snippet of another interview of his, where he talked of the poor needing a farsh (floor). He subsequently clarified that what he really meant was a base, a launching pad! Earlier, addressing students in Allahabad, he had referred to poverty as a “soch”, which the media gleefully translated into, “poverty is a thought”. What he probably meant was that poverty was a state of mind. Rahul’s problem is that he thinks in English and then tries to speak in Hindi. So there is a disconnect, as he is grossly lacking in Hindi idiomatic usage. But that is no excuse. Look at Naveen Patnaik in Orissa. He cannot speak in Oriya, yet is able to communicate with his people, and get re-elected umpteen times.
In 2009 columnist Shobhaa De called Rahul the dimpled darling of gennext. What epithet would suit him today – crumpled kurta, scruffy beard or paper shredder? Then on 17th May, at his press conference, while accepting “moral responsibility” for the election debacle, Rahul had a snigger on his face, devoid of any sense of remorse or regret. I shudder.
Rahul may be a good guy at heart, who means well. But he just doesn’t have the wherewithal to lead the Congress or the country. As a well-wisher, I would humbly suggest to him that he take an extended break, a sabbatical, from politics. He should make up for lost time and meet up with his girl friend. Better still, he should get married. In India he will be hounded wherever he is, so it would be better if he went abroad for a couple of years. Priyanka could well nurse his Amethi constituency in his absence. It would be in his own interests, as also of the Congress and the nation. I am here reminded of the words of Caiphas the High Priest who rather prophetically said of Jesus, “It is better for one man to die for the people” (Jn 18:14). This is indeed one of those circumstances that demand a sacrifice or submission. Will Rahul have the courage and humility of others like Nitish Kumar and Tarun Gogoi, who have accepted moral responsibility for their respective defeats, and resigned? I wish him well, and he could always pick up the pieces later.
* The writer is a Kanpur based civic activist.