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Rahul Gandhi in UP: The elephant gives birth to a mouse

Success, it has been well said, has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. The curious dynamics of Congress politics, however, inverts that formula and stands it on its head.

In Congress’ parallel universe, where reality can be bent to fit in with any argument, if the party fares well in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, that success would have had only one father – Rahul Gandhi; but in the event of a poor showing by the Congress, there’s an entire battalion of foot soldiers waiting to claim fatherhood for that failure.

How long will a party tolerate a 'star' who doesn't deliver results? Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

Now that virtually every exit poll in Uttar Pradesh and the post-election survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) points to a likely fourth-place finish for the Congress (behind the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party), the “fall guys” in the Congress who will take the rap on behalf of the yuvraj are already lining up to subject themselves to ritual self-abuse.

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who has elevated “dynasty worship” to a high art, said that if the UP results turn out to be sub-par for the party, it was Digvijaya himself, not Rahul Gandhi, who should be blamed.

Other apologists are trotting out yet more alibis for Rahul Gandhi in anticipation of the imminent failure of his high-decibel, high-voltage campaign. Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi claimed with a straight face on Saturday that Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh was no more forceful than it was in other States. What he was suggesting was that if Congress fares badly in UP, it mustn’t be read as a failure of Rahul Gandhi’s exertions because, honestly, he wasn’t doing in UP anything that he wasn’t doing elsewhere.

The truth is that Rahul Gandhi threw everything, including the kitchen sink, into his electioneering in Uttar Pradesh in perhaps the longest ever election campaign any party has ever waged. But as the results will likely show, it is a case of an elephant that goes into labour, full of trumpeting and thunder, only to give birth to a mouse.

As Sharad Pawar, an ally of the Congress, observed recently, the Congress party “has projected him (Rahul Gandhi). He is the main campaigner, not Digvijay Singh nor any other leader.” And while the Congress party may say anything to cover up for Rahul Gandhi’s inadequacy, the public at large, and political analysts, will rightly conclude that Rahul Gandhi “does not deliver,” he added.

Outlook’s former editor Vinod Mehta too noted that Rahul Gandhi – and indeed “the whole Gandhi family – invested a lot of capital in this election. To that extent, Mehta said, a poor showing by the Congress, if the exit poll results are validated, “is not just a defeat for Rahul Gandhi, it can be interpreted as some sort of defeat for the pulling power of the Gandhi family.”

Exit polls in India have an imperfect track record, so it might be prudent to wait for the final verdict to come in before pronouncing judgement. But this time, there is a rare unanimity among the findings of the various exit polls – and the CSDS post-election survey. Virtually all of them point to the Samajwadi Party either securing a majority of its own or emerging as the single largest party, and the Congress finishing in either the third or the fourth place.

Rahul Gandhi himself appeared in the last phase of his electioneering to have realised that all his huffing and puffing in UP would not yield dramatic dividends for his party. Which is perhaps why he seemed eager, during a recent off-the-record interaction with some of India’s top editors, to scale back heightened expectations of the Congress and to make a defeat seem like a victory.

Yet, for all the elaborate alibis being drawn up for Rahul Gandhi, if the final outcome in UP turns out to be as much of a disaster for the Congress as the exit polls indicate they are, the limits of tolerance for Rahul Gandhi, the “Santa Claus who never delivers”, might be reached soon – even among diehard worshippers of the dynasty.

Failure can only have so many ‘fall guys’. Rahul Gandhi’s political progress, as charted out in Congress almanacs, could face some malefic planetary influences if the exit poll projections turn out to be true.

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