The great Rahul Gandhi leave: Five questions to help him 'reflect' on the future of Congress

It’s not difficult to see what ails the Congress. It’s just surprising Rahul needs to go away for a few weeks to see the writing on the wall that has been staring at him in the face election after election.

Sandip Roy February 26, 2015 08:15:26 IST
The great Rahul Gandhi leave: Five questions to help him 'reflect' on the future of Congress

Somewhere out there in the world Rahul Gandhi is thinking.

It’s national news whenever Rahul Gandhi thinks because he tends to need to leave the country to do that. A billion people also thinking alongside him probably interrupts his thoughts.

The great Rahul Gandhi leave Five questions to help him reflect on the future of Congress

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has skipped the Budget session of Parliament to spend time thinking.

Rahul Gandhi often leaves the country which is his unquestioned right and no one should begrudge him for it.

Usually we don’t know where he’s gone or why he’s not attending the farewell dinner his own party is throwing for Manmohan Singh who just happened to have served 10 years as Prime Minister. That caused quite a ruckus in the media. So this time the Congress has been more careful and it has announced to the world that Rahul Gandhi has gone away to introspect. But Congress spokespersons assure us he will come back reinvigorated to lead as if the leader has gone for a spa treatment.

Even more amusing he got an excuse slip from his party president. Sonia Gandhi said he has been “given a few weeks. He needs some time." It all adds to the charade of the party that has become a family business but persists in pretending to be a modern democratic party with procedures and protocols.

The fact is anyone and everyone knows that these procedures and protocols might exist for the aam aadmi Congress worker but at the top it works according to the whims of the Gandhis. It’s their family business. It’s his party and it can cry if it wants to but if Rahul wants to take off for a few weeks to do his own private chintan shibir, it will just grin and bear it and roll out the red carpet when he returns.

This after all is the party where workers organize fireworks and cake outside his house for Rahul’s birthday even when the birthday boy is not in the country.

It’s not difficult to see what ails the Congress. It’s just surprising Rahul needs to go away for a few weeks to see the writing on the wall that has been staring at him in the face election after election.

But now that he has gone away to think here are a few things he can mull over.

What changed since the last time the Congress took stock of its performance? If the pollsters misgauged the extent of AAP’s victory, they certainly got one thing right and that was that the fortunes of Congress were plummeting. After the last election debacle, the Congress came up with reports. There was talk of restructuring and revamping and internal elections and new democratic processes to select candidates but it’s gone back to business as usual. Did all that soul searching result in any mea culpas about what had gone wrong? Did the Congress go to voters with any indication that they had learned their lesson? In fact what happened to all those reports?

What value do Rahul and Sonia bring to their beleaguered party? Rahul Gandhi is apparently keen to “sack many senior Congress leaders” but that exercise could start at home. When the Congress was routed in the last elections Sonia and Rahul offered their resignations in a drama whose ending was chronicle of a soap opera foretold. The resignations were offered and duly rejected without discussion. But while the party cannot seem to think of itself as anything beyond a family business, what kind of returns has the hallowed family name been bringing the party? More importantly, how has Rahul post-election been able to inspire the dispirited Congress worker and quell those plaintive cries of Priyanka lao, Congress bachao?

What’s AAP got that Congress does not? The Aam Aadmi Party at least in Delhi proved not so much BJP-killer as a sort of Congress Mark 2 putting forth a platform of populism, welfare and secular ideals. As Pawan Khera writes on NDTV  “When the party lost the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it was said that the rights-based pro-poor policies cost us dear. Nine months later, the Aam Aadmi Party rides the dole bandwagon to win the Delhi elections with an unprecedented majority, demolishing both the argument of 2014 and those who used the argument to win 2014.”

As the Delhi results proved, the Congress’ biggest problem is those who do not want the BJP want the Congress even less. And that is no longer Sheila Dikshit’s problem.

What does the Congress stand for? After the election rout, some Congress spokespersons talked about the messaging problem where they had failed to highlight the achievements of the UPA sarkar in the media while they were being battered by stories about scams. But in the days that followed one saw no fine tuning of the message. The Congress went to the Delhi polls with hardly any changes to its image. Narendra Modi is not what ails the Congress. The Congress ails the Congress. It’s a party that is tired, faction-ridden and riven with corruption. It’s hunted with the hounds and run with the hares for so long no one really knows where it stands on issues like secularism and development and corruption though it offers plenty of homilies. And AAP easily stole its thunder.

Finally what grade would Rahul give himself as his party’s leader? Not just as someone who can lead it to victory but as someone who can lead it through bleak times? And if it’s not a passing grade can any Congress leader dare to say the emperor has no clothes?

Come to think of it, the answers to these questions are not rocket science. And they should not need a few weeks to figure out either.

A sabbatical according to the dictionary is a period of paid leave traditionally given to an academic after the seventh year especially for rest but also to acquire new skills or training. Rahul has more than clocked up his seven years. Whether he needs more rest is debatable as are the new skills he will return with.

The Congress surely wishes Rahul Gandhi well on his sabbatical. He might come back reenergized and bursting with ideas. Or he might come back with a new hobby and a different passion. The Congress can only hope.

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