It seems that acche din have arrived for the Congressmen, if not for the rest of Indians. So supremely happy are they with the Gujarat election result that they probably sang Happy days are here again through Sunday night and as they welcomed the New Year. They are urging their new president Rahul Gandhi to reinvent his party. They think he should do that since he is done with the task of reinventing himself. They believe his politics are now sharper and his tweets are smarter. They are happy the foot doesn’t travel to the mouth when he opens it — at least not as often as it used to.
And they are pleading with him to give Narendra Modi a run for his money in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. They think he should — and he can — do that because they believe he has finished giving Modi a run for his money in the Gujarat elections. Rahul did make Modi sweat in Gujarat, although it was Modi who finally walked away with victory even if with a reduced number of seats in the Assembly.
2018 may see a new Modi
Just as the Rahul camp overestimates its Gujarat performance, almost treating it as a victory, the BJP underestimates the significance of its reduced margin in Modi’s home state.
The depleted support for the BJP throws up the obvious warning signals for that party, and enough has already been said about it. What remains to be seen is what the election-smart BJP will do in 2018 to prevent a Gujarat-type dent in its vote base in the state Assembly elections coming up in the New Year as well as the Lok Sabha poll in 2019.
Elections coming up in 2018
The big question before India now is whether Modi, 15 months before the Lok Sabha elections, will go ahead with his reform agenda that may have the potential to rub the voter on the wrong side at least in the near term. He got away with demonetisation’s effects, which ranged from discomforts of queues to deaths, and won the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand elections in a big way in March. In the Gujarat elections later, he escaped from the wrath of traders whose businesses were disrupted by the hasty implementation of GST.
The travails of GST may soon come to an end, and Modi is unlikely to embark on any more adventurous reforms for now. He may stop at the three other big-ticket reforms already underway: privatisation of Air India, recapitalisation of banks suffering from bad loans and the new bankruptcy law. The three moves, while not causing hardships to common man, may even give a much-needed boost to the Indian economy. At the same time, Modi may resort to steps that will address the immediate concerns over woes of farmers, unemployment and rising prices through sops that may be announced in February's Budget.
In 2018, Modi will also do well to rein in the fringe groups that are stoking hatred towards minorities. By actions and words, Modi must make it clear to the nation that opposing minoritism of the Congress, which destroyed the country’s social fabric, does not mean browbeating the minorities.
In other words, Modi can’t rest on his laurels and hope to win elections that are coming up in states and to the Lok Sabha. He has work to do to ensure that the BJP keeps winning.
Rahul has a tougher job on hand
Rahul’s to-do list for 2018 is longer and tougher than Modi’s. The advice given to him to reinvent the party is based on the assumption that he knows the complexities and undercurrents of India’s politics. After the Uttar Pradesh debacle in March, he was written off as a man unsuitable to politics and incapable of leading the party. After the Gujarat election, his admirers hail him as the party’s sole saviour.
They refuse to accept the fact that much of the support the Congress received in Gujarat was a result of negative vote against the BJP. The party, that has been reduced to ruling just Karnataka, Punjab, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry, lacks a positive agenda that tells people what it can or will do if voted to power. Its one-point programme is its anti-Modi plank, and it can’t possibly win future elections, unless Modi commits more blunders in 2018. Rahul should know that he can’t successfully run a party by simply hoping his rivals will make mistakes.
Even assuming that Rahul has learnt what politics is all about after the Gujarat polls, reinventing the party is no mean job. That means bringing in nothing less than a revolution in the party, and changing the very purpose of its existence. To begin with, it must have a grassroots cadre of committed workers.
Most — if not all — of those who pass off as Congress workers are mere hangers-on or spongers, who hope to get some ticket or the other someday, win an election and make fast bucks. They see the party as a means to turn relatively low investments into high returns. Politics is a vocation for the Congress workers, while it’s a passion for the BJP cadres, even if what they are passionate about is sometimes, if not always, questionable.
And the Congress must stop basking in the splendour of its past. Glorifying the Congress as a 133-year-old party with the halo of Independence around it is something like saying India is superior to the United States because of its Indus Valley Civilisation.
Rahul must know he must start from the scratch if he must take on Modi. The party may put up a good show in Karnataka or even retain the state in the elections in about five months from now. But that still won’t guarantee its success in the 2019 polls.
Like Modi, Rahul too mustn’t count chickens before they hatch.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: Jan 02, 2018 14:07 PM