Microsoft Politics and RaGa's Mega Hard Fall
By Ravi Shankar
Published: 18th May 2014 10:02:15 AM
While his dimpled smile was a tad faded, hers was grim and full of foreboding as Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi arrived at the deserted AICC headquarters at Akbar Road to meet the press briefly at 4.30 pm on Friday. The charts were showing the Congress in free fall, and Rahul owned up responsibility. In the morning, when he was trailing, party workers in Amethi waving Congress flags were shouting, “Priyanka laao, Priyanka laao”.
Amethi was strangely restrained, with a few half-hearted attempts to celebrate their MP’s win. Dispirited workers were leaving in trickles for their villages after hearing of their party’s doom. Rahul had left, too, but for Delhi.
As the results began to roll in by 8.30 am, senior Congress aides and the family went into a huddle. Their immediate priority was to decide upon the first official response to the media. Going to the polls under Rahul’s banner, the party suffered its worst ever electoral defeat in history—44 seats, a downslide of down 162 seats. Ironically, the best showing was a generation gap away—by his father Rajiv Gandhi who won 414 in the elections in 1984-85. But more than being the villain of 2014, Rahul has come across as a bumbling Hamlet, forever saying to be or not to be. In spite of the faint cracks showing, on the surface the Congress is sticking to its historic sycophantic script, at least for the time being—party leaders circled their wagons, shifting the blame on Manmohan Singh. Apart from Manmohan’s paralysed government, three factors contributed to the collapse of Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.
■ His inability to counter Narendra Modi’s ‘shehzade’ attack and the saffron wave.
■ His search for the inner Socialist.
■ An abundance of mentors, advisors and team members who chose spreadsheet politics over grassroots activity.
If Rahul had nurtured Amethi as often as he had sleepovers in Dalit villages guided by neo-Left activist Jairam Ramesh, he could, perhaps, have garnered a better margin—3.72 lakh in 2009 against 1.5 lakh in 2014 on his own family turf.
A generational shift always implies change, and a dismissal of old values and leadership. This happened with Rahul, too, but not for the better. Rahul’s Congress went from power to PowerPoint—a clutch of upmarket, foreign-educated wizkids, led by close aide Kanishk Singh, Mohan Gopal and Sachin Rao, assisted by Madhusudan Mistry, formed galling questionnaires to assess the performance of senior leaders. Junior district-level party workers were asked to rate big leaders, causing embarrassment and resentment. Assembly election results indicated total estrangement between reality and Rahul’s wishlist. Sonia had given him a free hand. And the end result of his complex audit method caused the lava to boil in the senior ranks, and Sonia hastily deputed Priyanka Gandhi to prevent an eruption. But Rahul didn’t see the writing on the wall—he was too busy putting his signature on the new blueprint prepared by his team, even before the seat count had started. The post election plan would be to induct more youth into the Congress—never mind poster boys like Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Priya Dutt and others were Humpty-Dumptied.
However, a senior Congress leader said Rahul had expected the party to lose. However, the old guard, used to backroom machinations after surviving 20 years of coalition politics, hoped that a third front could be propped up, if the Congress got even 120-plus seats. Rahul was determined to sit out the next five years in the Opposition benches, perhaps for a belated tuition in Parliamentary craft. Many members of his inner circle, in spite of their Microsoft electoral algorithms, never calculated such a BJP wave. Their assessment was a volatile third front government falling under the weight of its own contradictions within two years, followed by fresh elections bringing the Congress to power.
Perhaps, Rahul would fade away into content obscurity. Perhaps, he would come into his own, cracking down on the veterans left and pushing forward stymied agendas like primaries and infusing new blood. With 12-crore young and first-time voters, new grassroots have grown roots in India. To reap that harvest, Rahul will have to reinvent himself and the party.