What next for Rahul Gandhi? What next for the Congress?
The Congress general secretary has clearly failed to work wonders for the party. Not that he was expected to but a respectable show here would have strengthened his credentials as a leader. The party would have been satisfied with a tally of 60-70 but a performance in the 40s range leaves Rahul’s credibility as a vote catcher in serious doubt.
Will the Congress continue to bank on him to win the states? Barring the isolated success in the 2009 parliamentary polls in UP, his performance as the party’s lead campaigner has been disastrous across the country. His youth appeal, populist agenda and frequent visits to rural houses to garner attention, and some goodwill, have clearly failed to impress people. He simply does not bring in the votes.
The party would love to dump him. But it cannot. He is fait accompli for the Congress. It has to sink or swim with him. Simply because it has no other face to project as the star campaigner. The party has deliberately stopped other leaders from growing in political stature. He carries that Gandhi-Nehru stamp which the party believes impresses some people. It refuses to accept that the electorate has long stopped being enamoured by the legacy business.
The situation is particularly worse in states, where the party has steadfastly failed to develop competent leaders. In no state it has a leader it can project as chief minister. Worse, it grooms no local leader who could play a bigger role in future. No wonder, it is out of the picture in many important states. The Congress is paying the price for weakening the states to keep the central leadership strong. It has been a long practice which has started yielding disastrous results now.
Rahul Gandhi will continue to be the star campaigner of the party for this precise reason. He will be expected by Congressmen to compensate for the weakness of the party organisation and the leadership vacuum at all levels.
To be fair to him, he is hard-working. He does the leg work and gives the party his best. But is that enough to win the Congress elections in states? Bihar earlier and UP now clearly suggest that the answer is no. Such efforts are required to be backed by an organisational structure and local leadership. Both have been systematically destroyed by the party’s central organisation. Sonia Gandhi as the AICC chief has done little to reverse it. No party can expect to win elections riding on the personal charisma of one leader only. The Congress, unfortunately, would not accept this reality.
What went wrong in UP? Rahul did the hard yard, no doubts about that. He raised the issue of land losers, farmers and other disadvantaged sections, traversed the length and breadth of the state interacting with people and made well-directed attacks on the rival political parties at election rallies. All these are sensible political moves. At one point, his rivals sought to emulate him too. He made the right splash before the elections, then why did the votes go to the Samajwadi Party?
The answer lies with the Congress itself. It is intriguing that the party failed to capitalise on its success in the 2009 parliamentary elections and go on to build the organisational infrastructure. It is obvious that the party’s MPs have failed to deliver. The irony of the situation is difficult to ignore in this electio, where the party has performed badly in the Gandhi pocket boroughs Amethi and Rai Bareli. The local leaders of the party, obviously, have done little to help the party. The consequences are clear in the results.
The Congress uses Rahul more or less as a film star campaigner and does little to back him up. But that does not exclude Rahul’s culpability. He has been around for long enough to realise the weaknesses of the party. He has to be too dumb or too indifferent not to realise these. What has he done about it? Nothing. It seems he simply loves the stature the party offers him and stops at that.
Be sure in Gujarat, he will do an encore to the UP show. Nothing really changes in the Congress.