Rahul Gandhi's 'tragic hero' act deserves no sympathy; Congress needs honest assessment if it wants to be politically relevant

Conflicting reports suggest the Congress president is “adamant” on stepping down, but an emotional party is apparently “begging” the Gandhi scion to stay

Sreemoy Talukdar May 28, 2019 16:00:33 IST
Rahul Gandhi's 'tragic hero' act deserves no sympathy; Congress needs honest assessment if it wants to be politically relevant
  • For all his perceived and real weaknesses, Rahul helms an organisation that is entrenched and as old as history

  • Narendra Modi is a remarkable politician who has never lost an election. But politics always offers a second chance

  • Defeat is painful, but it is also a great teacher. For someone willing to learn, that is

The Congress party has slumped to the second-worst electoral drubbing in its history. Narendra Modi has still not yet taken oath for a second consecutive term as prime minister. Already, efforts are on to project Grand Old Party chief Rahul Gandhi as the “tragic hero” let down by his foot soldiers.

Post yet another debacle, Rahul apparently has pulled up some senior leaders and state chief ministers for pushing the agenda of their sons, but the irony of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi pushing his case is probably lost on him. One report, quoting a party leader present at the Congress Working Committee meeting that took stock of the fiasco, noted that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra deemed everyone else responsible for the drubbing.

Rahul Gandhis tragic hero act deserves no sympathy Congress needs honest assessment if it wants to be politically relevant

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter/@INCIndia

The AICC general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh apparently “lost her cool more than once during the four hour” meeting and said: “All those responsible for the party's defeat are sitting in this room”. If the report is to be believed, she even accused the leaders of abandoning her brother: “Where were you when my brother was fighting all by himself and alone?”

Meanwhile, conflicting reports suggest the Congress president is “adamant” on stepping down, but an emotional party is apparently “begging” the Gandhi scion to stay and not desert the Congress in its darkest hour. Yawn.

We have read this script before. It is always someone else’s fault.

 

We saw this script unfold in 2014 when Rahul was the vice-president of the Congress. Five years of ‘relaunches’ later the Gandhi scion, now the party chief, has presided over yet another humiliating loss. How has the accountability been set so far? Foot soldiers have resigned and are resigning even as this column is being written.

Six party unit chiefs — including Raj Babbar from Uttar Pradesh where Priyanka was parachuted in as general secretary — have resigned taking “moral responsibility”. The party’s veteran handler in Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan — who lost and submitted his resignation on Saturday — told media that poll defeat was a “collective responsibility” and not that of Rahul alone.

Such bhakti may bring tears to the eyes. Yet, no one needs to shed tears over the Congress. And honestly, it is nobody’s but the party’s business to address the crisis. The issue, however, is that Indian democracy needs a strong Opposition to function as an essential part of the system of ‘checks and balances’. This is more of a necessity now than ever before due to the enormous mandate that BJP has received, and centralization of that power in Modi’s hands. The Congress is still the only party suited to perform that role, but its resurrection is impossible unless it addresses the paradox central to its existence.

The paradox is that it remains in fear of a split unless a Gandhi sits on top and yet it shall be run aground precisely because a Gandhi sits on top. The first step towards a redemption, therefore, for the Congress is to acknowledge and internalise that this disaster is of Rahul’s own making. This is easier said than done for a family enterprise. No amount of deflection from this truth may work. If the Congress tries to shield Rahul from criticism and pretends as if everyone else is at fault, the paradox quoted above will eventually obliterate the party as we know it.

The paradox is intriguing because it is also true that if a Gandhi is not there at the helm, the Congress will become splintered and cease to exist. What may, therefore, be the path forward? The question of the party ‘standing for something’ rather than ‘everything for everyone’ shall remain central to its eventual trajectory, but that introspection must be done at a later stage. Right now, Congress’ resurrection is incumbent on an honest assessment, and it must start at the top.

In his hour of inglorious defeat, Rahul must not be allowed to play the victimhood card. This was his election, he selected the generals, he devised the strategy, he chose the candidates, he built the narrative and he must now own up for his failures. That is why it is important not to feel sorry for Rahul in his newest avatar as the ‘tragic hero’.

Rahul ran a vituperative campaign, pulled down the discourse with his untrammeled hatred against the prime minister and spread a web of lies around the Rafale fighter jet deal that he himself got sucked into. It could be the result of putting too much emphasis on “data analysis” at the cost of hard grind, people-to-people connect and political acumen.

It is preposterous to suggest, as Rahul has apparently done, that his ‘chowkidar chor hai’ campaign was not propagated well enough by Congress leaders. Even if he remains blind to the reality that the campaign backfired because it was a terrible idea to attack Modi on the issue of personal integrity, responsibility for perceived “failure” of the campaign must also lie on his shoulders.

The second step towards Congress’ redemption, therefore, is for Rahul to accept full responsibility for his failure instead of letting foot soldiers fall by wayside and admit that his strategy was wrong, he was out of touch with reality and he misread the pulse of the nation by running an abusive campaign against a very popular leader.

And this is where the rubber hits the road. Instead of abandoning the sinking ship (as Rahul is reportedly planning to do), the Congress president must abhor all drama over resignation and state in clear terms that he is not going to run away from the fight.

For all his perceived and real weaknesses, Rahul helms an organisation that is entrenched and as old as history. He may have been handed another humiliating drubbing by his adversary, but tomorrow is another day and age remains on his side. Modi is a remarkable politician who has never lost an election. But politics always offers a second chance. If Rahul runs way right now and spins his escapism as some sort of a higher moral calling, that would complicate issues further for the Congress. Defeat is painful, but it is also a great teacher. For someone willing to learn, that is.

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