There’s a growing realisation within the Congress that whatever Rahul Gandhi's showing as the party’s de facto leader, it appears that the Congress has no choice but to embrace his leadership. But here’s the thing…
Rahul Gandhi's umpteenth threat of finally becoming president of the Congress reminds me of a famous ghazal by Fayyaz Hashmi popularised by Farida Khanum: Aaj aane ki zid na karo (Don't insist on coming today).
Ok, ok, I know the original was an entreaty to the beloved for not leaving. And here we are talking the exact opposite. A sort of polite reminder that you are no longer needed. To complete the ghazal, if you insist on coming, haaye lut jayenge, haaye mar jayenge (we will be destroyed, we will die).
Ask around, this is what almost every Congressman is singing privately, both as a lament and a bhajan. For, when it comes to you, it is not the time to come, but to go. For the sake of the country, for the benefit of the Congress and, as I argued earlier, for your own good. Don't think of your anointment. Just abdicate, find some excuse, find some other interest. If nothing else, for god's sake, do an Edward VII to the Congress.
It is absolutely absurd, though understandable in the context of its dynastic culture, sycophantic nature and what-will-we-do-without-Gandhis psychosis, that the Congress is now thinking of promoting Rahul Gandhi to the party chief's post. According to reports, the party is planning a complete overhaul in the next few weeks by bringing in a new team under Rahul. This would be historic. Never before in the history of Indian politics have we heard of somebody being rewarded for a string of failures, handed over the reins of a party he is driving to destruction.
In The Tribune, Harish Khare, former media advisor to former prime minister Manmohan Singh argues in a letter he imagines Jawaharlal Nehru would have written to Indira Gandhi, "This boy’s problem has remained the same, as it was 12 years ago. He has not defined himself as anything other than being your (Indira's) grandson. He has weakened the Congress brand, if you will excuse my use of this disagreeable modern word."
There is an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. For the past 12 years, the party has given Rahul every imaginable opportunity to succeed. He has got different responsibilities--Youth Congress, party primaries, state elections, Lok Sabha polls; different states, different poll combinations--Congress in opposition, Congress in opposition, Congress in alliance. Yet the results have been the same.
In the Hollywood film Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carrey asks Lauren Holly a simple question: "What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?
"I'd say more like one out of a million," Holly replies..
Carrey replies after a dramatic pause: "So you're telling me there's a chance. Yeah!"
It takes an eternal optimist of the Carrey kind to believe that there is one in a million chance Rahul will turn the Congress around under his leadership. Rahul's problem is that he is too much of a nice guy to succeed in this mad, bad and sad world of politics where it takes much more than some hare-brained ideas, however well-meaning they may be, and confused idealism to get ahead in race.
In his piece, Khare argues: "Leadership has always been and will always be a moral project. People will follow, or at least would like to feel they are following, someone because they have been given reason to believe that this or that putative leader can be trusted to pursue honestly the public good. And a leader has to give the citizens a reason to respect him — by his behaviour, by his words and actions — for what he stands for, or against."
So far, Rahul has not shown any signs of being a leader whom others will follow. He has looked like a lemming leading his darbaris and incompetent advisors to a certain death. Nobody knows what he stands for except anti-Modism even when that Modism sometimes mimics ideas and policies inspired by the UPA– the GST Bill, for instance. It is still a mystery what his war strategy is, except that he loves to carry out guerrilla attacks and then disappear for several months.
And, he can't decide. A few months ago, the Punjab Congress sent him an urgent message seeking his approval for inducting an important leader into the party. Insiders say Rahul took two months to take note of the missive. By the time he replied, the leader had already joined the Aam Aadmi Party. Similar bouts of incurable procrastination have cost the party dear in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Uttarakhand and led to open warfare between rival factions in other states.
The high point of Rahul's career was the only memorable speech he has made in his political life. In Jaipur, three years ago, when he compared power with poison, for a moment it seemed there was a philosopher in Rahul and he had understood that the hemlock of power is best discarded. That day, if Rahul had renounced power, categorically stated that he would not accept any position or post in the party and serve it like Mahatma Gandhi, he would have risen in public esteem. Ironically, he came out to a burst of crackers announcing his acceptance of the post of the party VP.
Rahul can still rectify that mistake. Now that he has spent almost a decade sipping the poison that has sadly seeped into the veins of the party, he should step aside.
India needs the Congress to survive. But this Congress can't be the family heirloom of a family. It has to be an idea that nurtures and strengthens the idea of secular, liberal, syncretic country based on the idea of equality of rights for every citizen.
Only a bold, honest, courageous leader with a clear vision of India, someone committed to the welfare of the populace instead of a family and its retainers and endowed with the ability to stand up to bigotry, communalism, unabashed majoritarianism can fit that role. But, Rahul is an impediment to the leader India demands and deserves.
Rahul should step aside. For inspiration, let us send him tapes of Farida Khanum singing: Aaj aane ki zid na karo! Haye, mar jayenge.