What does the road for Rahul Gandhi look like after the Congress' poor showing in Karnataka? The Congress president has just one option left now — he should mentally prepare himself for the role of a junior partner in an anti-BJP coalition.
Karnataka has once again underlined Gandhi's inability to win elections. It has become clear that if he has to taste victory, India is perhaps not the right place for him. He doesn't understand India's ground reality, can't provide an alternate narrative to the voters and has no plan to take on the BJP.
Gandhi has been trying to win elections for almost six years. But he fails every time. Obviously, nothing about him has changed during this period. He is still the same person with the same flawed ideas and strategy. With all these handicaps, he should stop dreaming of becoming India's prime minister in the near future.
The problem with Gandhi, as the Karnataka and Gujarat results show, is that he doesn't have the ability to inspire people to vote for the Congress. In fact, there is growing belief that voters who may have been inclined to consider the Congress as an option ultimately tilt towards the BJP because of Gandhi's lack of charisma and political heft.
Many opinion polls had indicated the absence of anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government. His social welfare schemes were believed to be quite popular. Yet, the Congress failed to retain the state – as per latest trends. This happened primarily because the BJP succeeded in converting the election into a 'Gandhi vs Narendra Modi' contest. And since Modi towers miles above Gandhi, the BJP benefitted from the strategy.
Gandhi's other failure was that he failed to advise Siddaramaiah on two crucial issues that ultimately led to the Congress' defeat. One, he could not foresee that the gamble to divide the Lingayats by recommending minority status for them would backfire as it would lead to counter-consolidation among other castes.
Two, he failed to restrain Siddaramaiah from playing the regionalism card by evoking Kannadiga pride. This was suicidal because the Congress is a pan-India party – even if now it is confined to just Punjab, Puducherry and Mizoram – and its embrace of regionalism reduced it to the level of a desperate provincial party that could reject its own history and ideals for votes.
Siddaramaiah may have had his own reasons for making these two blunders. He was perhaps blinded by his regional satrap status and the inability to look beyond Karnataka. But, as a leader, Gandhi should have had the foresight to see how these two moves could undermine the Congress campaign by making it look divisive and parochial. That he failed to do so underlines his lack of vision and grasp of politics.
After every election, the Congress laments its lack of organisational strength. Its leaders come out on TV channels and argue that they do not have an answer to the BJP's election machinery and the numerical strength of the RSS cadres. But, in spite of being aware of its problems, Gandhi has failed to address them, proving his lack of problem-solving abilities.
The problem with Gandhi is that he sees himself as a natural claimant for the role of Modi's opponent. This has happened because in its desperation to find a challenger to the prime minister, the media and anti-Modi voices have seen in Gandhi qualities he lacks. In many ways, the anti-Modi voices have reflected their own hopes and dreams in Gandhi. Unfortunately, just because there is a vacuum in the Opposition space, it doesn't entitle Gandhi to claim he is entitled to being Modi's principal adversary.
A loss in Karnataka would cut Gandhi further down to size. Opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav would refuse to accept the leadership of a person who has not been able to win a single election. In fact, they would now refuse to see him as an asset or a star-campaigner.
Ideally, the Congress should have looked beyond the Gandhis after the 2014 rout. The party should have realised that the dynasty does not appeal to young voters and the urban population. For them, they represent an outdated brand that is more a symbol of failure than success. But, the Congress failed to see the writing on the wall. Having promoted Gandhi as the president, it now has no option but to continue having the dynasty as the proverbial albatross around its neck.
Ironically, the only person who can save the Congress from extinction and the Opposition from disintegrating is Gandhi himself. If he wants to remain politically relevant, he should humbly accept his failures and rule himself out of the race for India's top job. He should accept the reality of India's politics and position the Congress as a junior partner to regional heavyweights. He should politely accept the leadership of somebody with a proven record of winning elections, rejuvenating a party and converting fence-sitters into supporters.
Karnataka has shown that there can be just one outcome of a 'Gandhi vs Modi' contest. It is time for someone else to replace step into the ring and save Gandhi from the heavy pummeling.
Updated Date: May 15, 2018 17:09 PM