The real lesson of assembly exit polls: Rahul's a political dud

By Hartosh Singh Bal

Much of the analysis of the assembly elections results will start once the results are in over the weekend. But even the best possible outcome is likely to spell disaster for the Congress party. The exit polls -- which show the BJP poised for landslide in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, and ahead in Delhi and Chhattisgarh -- already provide enough evidence to answer that fundamental question: what, if anything, does Rahul Gandhi bring to the Congress?

As heir to the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, there are but two possible reasons for the party to look to Rahul Gandhi. One is a possible ability to enthuse voters on the basis of his pedigree, the other that he may be able to revitalise a decaying party organisation.

But, as has been evident for a while, Rahul is not a man who has a natural connect with crowds. He lacks the fluency and charisma that marks a politician who can excite or charm an audience.  His mannered behavior, his stiff body language and his inability to speak Hindi in a fashion that the audience can relate to has clearly put paid to any expectation of mass support.

 The real lesson of assembly exit polls: Rahuls a political dud


This leaves the party with the belief that he remains essential for holding the organisation together.  It is no coincidence that by far the greater part of his energy ever since he entered politics has been given over to this effort. And it is here that his failure is most evident, and provides the clearest evidence that it may be best for the party to look beyond Rahul.

For these Assembly elections, the process of selection of candidates has been entirely the work of Rahul and his team, with the Central Election Committee (CEC) headed by Sonia Gandhi virtually serving to endorse the selection.

A report in The Indian Express quoted a CEC member as saying that, "At CEC meetings, names are taken and cleared almost like a ritual as we know Rahulji and his team have done the background check through independent surveys, intelligence agencies and various other sources. Madam (Sonia) does not intervene any more and watches the proceedings silently."

This remark was problematic on many levels. It came after Rahul’s gaffe about intelligence agencies briefing him about plots by terror outfits to lure Muslims victims of communal violence in UP.  Quite apart from the stigmatization that the victims could do without, questions were raised about Rahul’s easy claim that intelligence agencies were briefing him when they had no business doing so. The statement by the CEC member suggests that there has been large-scale misuse of intelligence agencies to screen possible Congress candidates at the behest of Rahul and his team.

The comment also suggests a top down selection approach that puts paid to the hype of inner party democracy. Rahul’s major achievement in terms of party reorganisation seems to have been to place great reliance on people like him who have inherited the privileges of power.

For example, in Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot, the son of Rajesh Pilot, and Jitendra Singh, the princeling from Alwar, were made co-chairmen of the poll campaign committee. This multiplication of cheap imitations of Rahul across the party has virtually ensured that there are no grass root leaders of any importance emerging from within the party structure.

At the very least, the result of Rahul’s intervention should have been the selection of candidates who represent the new and progressive face of the party. Well the Congress has given a ticket to 80-year-old Ameri Devi, the mother Malkhan Singh Bishnoi, the man who is the main accused in the Bhanwari Devi abduction case.

Family benefits, as fits a dynast, extend up and down generations. In Delhi, Sajjan Kumar’s son has been given the ticket even as the Supreme Court has ordered the commencement of yet another trial for murder against the father. That seems to be a strange way of making amends to the Sikhs in an election where the Congress has been making so much of its concern for the minorities.

If the ability to win a seat is to override all constraints of public morality then isn't much of the posturing being done by Rahul just hypocrisy? If a small coterie of people, with no direct experience of how politics actually plays out on the ground in this country, can actually rely on survey agencies and, far more problematically, on the intelligence agencies to select candidates, what was Rahul doing over the past few years trying to build the party from the bottom up?

It is not difficult to anticipate that this approach will largely be met with failure. This failure will be a result of Rahul and the men cast in his image being unable, even after a decade in politics, to make sense of this country.

The party, of course, is unlikely to learn its lessons and will repeat the same failures in the national elections. If now, or in a couple of years, this country is subjected to the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi then a great part of the blame must lie in the fact that the face of the Congress opposition to Modi was a man named Rahul Gandhi.

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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2013 13:46:21 IST