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Issue No.: 574 | April 2015

Rahul Takes A Break

Firoze Hirjikaka
They seek him here, they seek him there
They seek that fellow everywhere
He makes them grind their teeth and wince
That damn elusive Congress Prince

(with due apologies to the Scarlet Pimpernel)

Rahul Gandhi has done a bunk - to god knows where. Unconfirmed Rahul sightings have been reported from Bangkok, Switzerland and even the frozen heights of Gangotri. There is intense speculation about his motives. Is he on a spiritual retreat, or a voyage of discovery, or is he just fed up of politics? Sonia probably knows, but she is not telling. Congress stalwarts are hoping that he comes up with a grand plan to resurrect their almost defunct party, but they are not celebrating just yet. 

A lot of criticism is being levelled at Rahul Gandhi for taking a break from politics. He is being accused of abandoning his post and running away like a coward. There may be some substance to this. On reflection however, I believe it is a wise move by the Congress heir-apparent. After the Lok Sabha debacle, it has been proved conclusively that the more he opens his mouth and attacks Modi, the stronger the PM seems to get. 

The strongest argument for allowing Rahul to figure out his party’s future strategy and try to implement it is that it has to be better than the alternative. In fact, there is no alternative. Ever since the Lok Sabha shellacking, the Congress has been thrashing about like someone stuck in quicksand. The more they try to attack Modi, the bigger fools they make of themselves and the more they sink into the mire. Consider the asinine comments by his party men, like taking the Coast Guard DIG's bombast about "blowing the Pakistani boat out of the water and not serving them biryani" at face value and using it to criticise the BJP. This has not only earned the Congress universal scorn not just from politicians but also the armed forces, it has provided Pakistan with a handle to accuse us. Then there was the PM’s infamous Rs. 10 lakh suit. After it was auctioned for over Rs. 4 crore, some nitwit in the Congress pegged the auctioned value as the actual cost of the suit, thereby displaying his pettiness and making a laughing stock of himself. 

As for Rahul himself, there is a lot of speculation as to the reason for his sulk. Some say he is thwarted because his somewhat radical plans for revamping the Congress Party are being opposed by the old guard. More frustratingly, while Mummy Dearest regards him with an indulgent eye, he is not quite able to convince her that reform from within is the need of the hour.

So what does Rahul do next? He could continue sulking, of course, or he could introspect on why India's Grand Old Party is facing near total irrelevance. If he allows that to happen, he will be doing a grave disservice not only to the nation that has afforded so many privileges to his family, but also to India's democracy. The previous exercise in one-person authoritarian rule resulted in the Emergency. Perhaps it was generations of democratic principles that caused Indira Gandhi to relent and call for elections - or perhaps it was her arrogance. Whatever the reason, the country's ordeal lasted for a mercifully brief period. I am not sure if our current PM has the same compunctions. For sure, he believes in democracy. However, he is not used to defeat and has had his own way in governance for 15 years. Delhi could be regarded as an aberration, but if the pattern repeats itself in other states, there is no telling what will be his reaction. With the best of intentions, such undiluted power can go a person's head. I know some people are talking about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a credible alternative, but they have a long way to go before they achieve national prominence. Whichever way you look at it, one party rule is not healthy for a democracy.

It is rumoured that Rahul wants to shake up the party from within and institute a system of party elections at all levels. It is rumoured that the Old Guard is vehemently resisting this effort, which is hardly surprising. The Congress lords have become too big for their boots and virtually abandoned interactions with the rank and file of the party. If internal elections were to be held, they would be unceremoniously booted out. It is rumoured that Sonia Gandhi is torn between maintaining the loyalty of the Old Guard; and giving her son a free hand. There is speculation that Sonia will finally hand over the reins to the heir during the forthcoming AICC session. No one really knows, but the gossip mills of Delhi – and the know-it-all anchors of news media – are having a field day.

It would be presumptuous of course to second guess Rahul’s motives or intentions, but then offering unsolicited advice is so tempting – and so human. So here goes. Firstly, trying to use Modi’s masterful tactics for unsettling his political opponents against him is not only futile, it has proved to be disastrous. When Modi hurls a sarcastic or lethal barb at the Gandhis, the people applaud him for his wit. However, when Rahul tries the same thing against Modi, he is accused of being petty and vindictive. Rahul has to accept the fact that he is no match for Modi in political acumen or crowd pleasing oratory. Modi’s strength is his weakness and he should accept the reality. 

The most constructive thing he and the Congress can do is to forget about the BJP until a few months before the next general election; and concentrate on rebuilding the party and more importantly, restoring its shattered morale. Yes the Congress risks losing all the states remaining in its control, but that is likely to happen anyway. There are no short term prospects for the Congress. Its image among the common citizens is so dismal that it would actually be to its benefit to keep out of the public eye for the next two or three years. Perhaps the Congress could emulate the tactics that the AAP employed so successfully in Delhi. It would be advantageous for the Congress grassroots workers to circulate among the common people, particularly in states where assembly elections are coming up, listen to their problems and lend a sympathetic ear bereft of grandiose promises. The leaders should stay out of the public gaze and manage affairs behind the scenes. Above all, they should keep their mouths shut. It may or may not help, but it certainly will not hurt. This may be one instance where silence is indeed golden.

Rahul has arrived at crossroads in his political life. It must be tempting to chuck it all and concentrate on the good life he is accustomed to. Perhaps he is conscious of the heavy weight of dynastic succession on his shoulders. If he does take the plunge, he has a long and arduous road ahead of him with the failures outweighing the successes. It is to be seen whether he has the fortitude to stay the course. I am probably in a minority of one, but I wish him well.

MR. FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer, and a freelance writer and a 
member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First. 





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