Under the leadership of Louis XVI of France a thousand years of French monarchy came to an end. Born to privilege and wealth, Louis XVI had a knack for being indecisive, uncommunicative and unable to distinguish sound advice from the one given to placate his ego by those in his inner circle. Living in denial, his failure to identify and resolve France's problems led to the French Revolution and that eventually led to his downfall.
Ironically, this personality sketch of a king from the pages of history finds similarities with another figure in contemporary Indian politics — Rahul Gandhi, who is often termed as the prince of Indian politics albeit with a dwindling and diminishing political legacy to lord over. A reluctant politician who likes status quo more than taking bold decisions. This, coupled with his obsession to be inaccessible even to the senior most leaders of the party and keeps him as far away as possible from reality makes him not much of an Aurangzeb but more of a King Louis the XVI of Indian politics.
In 2014, with Rahul already at its helm as the vice-president, the Congress party ruled thirteen states and the BJP had a presence in seven states. In 2017, as BJP won Himachal Pradesh and Congress was unable to wrest Gujarat even after 22 years of anti-incumbency, Congress has come down to ruling just four states, whereas under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, the BJP now has a presence in 19 states. Karnataka, one of the bigger states ruled by Congress, is up for elections in 2018.
Even as the political equivalent of a "French Revolution" stares Rahul in the face he remains in denial. Addressing the press after the Gujarat verdict about 24-hours too late, (Modi and Shah had already met the BJP workers and pushed their own narrative of a victory in the national media), Rahul cut a sorry figure. Calling Gujarat a "moral win" for the Congress and his reading of it as a dent on the credibility of Modi is probably just as fictional and illusional as the Star Wars movie he reportedly preferred to watch in the evening the results were declared.
While the newly-anointed president of the Inidan National Congress was busy vacationing in Goa, his counterpart from the BJP, Amit Shah was busy meeting party workers and leaders in Karnataka.
Rahul's absence has also led to a lot of confusion over what is the party's stand on the controversial triple talaq bill. In the Lok Sabha, the party supported the BJP's position with a little hue and cry and now in the Rajya Sabha we appear to be taking a different stand altogether. Riding in two boats at one time may not be the best strategy. But as always Rahul is unable to take a decisive stand one way or the other. Right now , he should have been leading from the front on this issue.
Rahul needs to realise that about 65 percent of India is below the age of 35 and it is this section of voters, especially the undecided, urban voters and fence-sitters, who played a decisive role in the 2014 election and also in the Gujarat elections of 2017. Armed with social media (Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter) enabled smartphones, they will play a bigger role in the 2019 election.
Apart from jobs and the state of the economy, the Young India will also vote for a personality that reflects it's aspirational and identity quotient better, even in the face of tremendous anti-incumbency. That it voted in 2014 with vengeance for a man perceived as a political outsider to the NDTP (New Delhi to Parliament Street) establishment of elite, champagne activists, especially after that classist "chaiwala" jibe made by Mani Shankar Aiyyar, is an indicator of the revulsion most people have, especially in this age group, for privilege, especially dynastic privilege, in the politics of a transforming new India.
But has India's grand old party been able to fully comprehend this? Instead of forcing himself upon the electorate of Gujarat had Rahul and Sonia been secure enough to create strong leaders who could be the face of the battle (like Captain Amarinder Singh was in Punjab), the contest would never have been a Modi-versus-Rahul affair which, as we all know by now, only ends with one result — a victory for the BJP. If only the Congress had a credible local face in Gujarat as the chief ministerial candidate instead of the three caste cowboys it hired last minute, the battle would be between the candidate and Rupani and the outcome could have been much better for the Congress. It could have been Congress' fifth and most important state.
Defeat is not the reason why allies and the electorate do not take Rahul seriously. It is his inability to learn from defeats that makes him a liability. His social media presence may have improved but he is still a patron of a feudal, Shehzada politics where the party overwhelmingly affords positions of power to dynasts. This structure is incompatible with what young India wants. If Rahul fails to understand this he will put an end to the century old glorious legacy of the Congress party in much the same way the French monarchy's run ended with King Louis XVI.
Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 14:23 PM