For Rahul Gandhi, time has always been prepared to launch and re-launch him. Indian politics was not so easy for him and his mother. They have been attacked and criticized for dynasty politics. Gandhi entered public life when he contested and won his father’s old Lok Sabha seat of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 2004.
In March 2004, Rahul announced his entry into politics by announcing that he would contest the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections, standing from his father’s former constituency of Amethi. The seat had been held by his mother until she transferred to the neighbouring seat of Rae Bareilly. In 2007, he was elected as the General Secretary of the Congress party, an executive post also held in the past by his father, Rajiv Gandhi and by his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. Amidst calls from Congress party veterans for his greater involvement in party politics and national government, he was elected Congress Vice-President in 2013.
Rahul led the INC campaign in the 2014 general election in which the party suffered its worst electoral result in its history, winning only 44 seats compared to 206 seats won previously in the 2009 general election. The Congress had performed poorly in Uttar Pradesh, just holding 10 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state. At that time, this move generated surprise among political commentators, who had regarded his sister Priyanka as being the more charismatic and likely to succeed. It generated speculation that the presence of a young member of India’s most famous political family would reinvigorate the Congress party’s political fortunes among youthful population. He won, retaining the family stronghold with a victory margin of over 100,000.
Rahul and his sister Priyanka, managed their mother’s campaign for re-election to Rae Bareilly in 2006, which was won with a victory margin of over 400,000 votes. He was a prominent figure in the Congress campaign for the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections; Congress, however, won only 22 seats of the 403 seats with 8.53% of votes. In 2008, senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily mentioned “Rahul-as-PM” idea when the PM of India Manmohan Singh was still abroad. The Congress, defeated in election after election and reduced to its humiliating tally in the Lok Sabha in 2014, has been completely decimated in Uttar Pradesh, once its backyard and politically the home state of the family. The party has won just seven seats of the 105 it contested, down from 269 in 1985 before the state was split in two. It has been routed in all the four seats including Rahul Gandhi’s own Amethi. Under him, the party is staring at defeat in almost all major states approaching elections including Karnataka, where it is in power. Congress party’s electoral prospects in 2019 Lok Sabha election looks bleak and humiliation could be even worse than that of 2014. If Rahul Gandhi continues to lead party, one day it will vanish from politics of India.
The Congress has failed to understand India’s escalating neo-middle class and their “youth icon” is completely out of touch with the ambitions of the youth. It has lost the confidence of most Hindus by cheap minority gimmickry and the language of appeasement. It could also be plain pettiness of denying former PMs Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh their rightful place in the family-run enterprise. Since 2014, Congress has lost the central ground of Indian politics. By its meaningless politicking, verbatim expressions and elitist view of activism, it has managed to push itself to the brims. Rahul should be given full responsibility of ruining it entirely. Only then we will know whether the party of Gandhi, Bose, Patel, Ambedkar, Nehru and Indira, is a phoenix.
It has lost miserably in Uttarakhand. The only shining spot is Punjab, where it swept polls thanks only to the popularity and hard work of Captain Amarinder Singh and his wife, 10 years of abject misrule by the Badals, and Rahul largely staying out of the campaign. Congress leaders should learn the art of winning elections from Amarinder Singh, by keeping RaGa out of election campaign.
In contrast, Modi is a relentless campaigner, fearlessly putting himself front and centre. He has guts to announce his campaigns chanting “Har Har Mahadev”, who openly advocate Hinduism and justice to Hindus. He has guts to polarize without getting in appeasement. He equally stood by Muslim woman condemning triple talaq. His decision to pull out the stops in Varanasi is being hailed as a courageous move. BJP MPs feel that more than this being a case of the PM rightfully according priority to his seat, his move reflects a risk-taking ability and a preparedness to throw his all into an election. Morale-sapping losses in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 did not slow him down and he bounced back with a big win in Assam and a heartening performance in Kerala last year. But on many counts, the UP election was the one that really mattered.
What added to the compelling drama that surrounds any election in the country’s most populous state was Modi’s huge political gamble of demonetising Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 500 notes in November, a decision that knocked 86% of available currency out of circulation. The UP election was billed both as a virtual referendum on demonetisation and a semi-final for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It called for all of Modi’s skills as a communicator to counter a determined attack from political rivals and criticism by leading economists and intellectuals, some of whom saw the action as despotic and whimsical. After transforming from the Hindu Hriday Samrat of Gujarat to Development Man in 2014, UP 2017 saw Modi again re-invent himself as a pro-poor welfarist. In the Indira Gandhi style, Modi in UP was the PM seeking to win a state election on the basis of his own persona, not through state leaders. Modi was a one-man show in these polls.
Still the Gandhi family’s blueprint is clearly engraved. Sonia Gandhi will hand over the Congress presidency to Rahul in the course of the next one year, possibly earlier. She has turned 70 and keeps unwell; this is a good time to bequeath the fief. Congress old-timers who’ve blocked Rahul’s coronation for a while, fearing their own uselessness, have more or less come around. Rahul’s hyper activism in recent months has been directed as much at them as at the BJP. The old guard in the Congress has for long doubted whether Rahul had fire in his belly. They persuaded Sonia to carry on as president last year. She radiates a European sense of purpose. Her body language is assertive. She speaks with firmness that brooks no dissent. Rahul, half-European, quarter-Kashmiri and quarter-Parsi is milder. It has taken him 12 years in Parliament to capture the aggression his mother projects effortlessly. And yet, when it comes to the crunch, Sonia is ruthless, Rahul conciliatory. Unfortunately for Rahul, he is not a natural politician.
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