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Rahul's predicament: Party leaders 'unable' to differentiate between secularism, Hindutva

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

Selective reporting of Barack Obama's new memoir, “A Promised Land”, has given another handle to the opponents of Rahul Gandhi to mock at him. Most of the time, once an election is passed and if the Congress performs better, media does not speak about him, but if the party fails, they start not only mocking him, seeking to to replace him, or ask other party leaders to rebel against him.
This time, two things came at a time. The Obama memoir and the dismal performance of the Congress in Bihar. Immediately thereafter, the usual chorus for his replacement started. Most of the time, these things don’t come from inside the Congress, but the BJP IT cell, which has been mocking not only Rahul but his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru. This time, there are some rumblings from within, too.
Rahul comes from a political family, or may we call it the first family of independent India? His family had tremendous privileges. Many others have also enjoyed these privileges politically. The result was, after the landslide victory of Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, the Congress actually went into a slumber and lost its appeal and the mass base.
Rahul's entry into the Congress happened at a time when the party was almost finished in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and its numero uno position in India's political spectrum, as the party of governance, had already come to an end. BJP had begun replacing the space with the backing of powerful dominant castes, the savarnas.
The UPA government during its two terms did some good work, but in terms of communication with the masses, it was horrible. Media management was missing. There was failure to build quality party cadres. The result is, its cadres, as also politicians, don’t have clear ideological commitment. Many don’t have qualms in switching loyalty to BJP. They were unable to differentiate between secularism and Hindutva.
Fragile, the Congress lost its savarna leaders and voters whom it had nurtured. In the new political scenario, it is a difficult task to regain its savarna base, because now other backward classes (OBCs), Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims also seek representation in the power structure, which the Congress does not want to concede even now.
While leading the UPA government, the Congress lost in the perception game. Its failed to follow consistent policies. It honoured the demand for Telangana on December 9, 2009, but buckled under pressure to withdraw it later. Meanwhile, it gave enough space to KTR, who was not really the main force in the region then.
Ultimately, when the Centre decided to accept the demand for Telangana, the party had already lost its goodwill in the region, even as it was made out to be a villain in Andhra Pradesh. The management was so poor that the party lost both the states miserably. Rahul was surely not responsible for all this.
While the Congress passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 which happened after lots of struggles, and it used its achievement of coming up with MNREGA as panacea for rural employment, Anna's movement finished off the acceptance of the party among the savarna classes, who attacked the party of corruption, even as nurturing anti-reservation dreams.
Hence, in 2014, when Rahul was asked to lead a campaign against Narendra Modi, he was sure to be a flop. The biggest tactical mistake of the Congress leadership at that time was to make him president in order to face the burden of the hugely unpopular Manmohan Singh government, which was being blamed for inefficiency and corruption. The result was on expected lines. The party lost and the blame for it went to Rahul.
Rahul is honest and speaks his mind, but he is not able to connect with masses. Yet, it is also a fact that people come to listen to him. The problem is not in the Congress leaders’ oratory. There have been numerous examples where leaders weren’t good orators, yet they succeeded.
Congress’ biggest problem is in its structure, which is still controlled by the Brahmanical elite. The party didn’t even have candidates to field in 70 constituencies during the recent Bihar assembly polls, yet it decided to go ahead with it. It could have give ticket to those who have been traditionally with the party but belong to the marginalised sections. Perhaps they would have been more successful.
There have been allegation that many Bihar Congress leaders were actually in Nitish Kumar's 'good books' and might dump the party. Recent developments suggest how easy it has been for BJP in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, to lure away Congress leaders, as they have little or no ideological orientation.
In fact, during the Bihar polls, the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal appeared to have decided not to speak on ideological issues, especially on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) or violence on Dalits. They would respond to these issued, if at all, in very casually.
Rahul raised the Chinese incursion issue, but this didn’t work, as in North India people feel that speak like this is an insult to the armed forces. He should have been careful, but one does not know who advises him. His trips did not seem to have been planned well. Apparently, he was was not properly briefed about local issues.
Obama's comment on Rahul should be taken as impression at the first sight. It cannot be taken seriously. They have never worked together
The Congress should have understood that a few more seats for RJD and CPI-ML would have been beneficial for the Grand Alliance in Bihar, but the leaders from Delhi who went to negotiate there remained under the impression that, as part of the alliance, the party would be well.
It is time the Congress does an honest survey of its position in several states. Rahul has not visited Bihar before the elections, nor has Priyanka. We have not seen them active in Odisha either. The party is being replaced by BJP everywhere. Rahul shouldn’t just be a leader speaking and taking on Narendra Modi head on, he needs an Amit Shah, a man who is understands political dynamics.
Rahul has been great on many issues like demonetisation, Chinese incursion, foreign policy, economic meltdown etc., but perhaps he is better equipped to speak before English audience because of his flair. As for Hindi audience, he is still not able to connect with them. Probably, the party will have to look for other leaders, nationally and locally. Rahul can continue, but ensure that local leaders are not para-trooped from Delhi.
Barack Obama's comment on Rahul should be taken as impression at the first sight. It cannot be taken seriously. They have never worked together, nor have they observed each other’s work. Rahul met him way back in 2010 when UPA was in power, but till 2015 he was not clear on many things. There was an impression that he was an unwilling leader imposed by Sonia Gandhi.
Fact of the matter is, Rahul became sandwiched in internal power politics of the Congress. He had to defend a government whose leaders were leaking stories of he being a 'pappu' not knowing anything. His party never defended him when he was being lampooned by the Sangh Parivar.
Barak Obama worked a lot with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If he does not speak honestly about Modi, it would be mean he is playing politics. That he is silent on Modi would be construed as his effort to appease “Indian” voters.
Rahul is an easy target for the 'liberal' club, too. They do are doing it to look more 'secular' and 'balanced'. It is time he and the Congress reinvent themselves and try to usher in a coalition representing India's diversity. The Congress needs to strengthen its social base and focus on building leaders from the margins.
Too much dependence on upper caste leaders will bring nothing to the party. Unfortunately, Rahul's team in Bihar was more visible on TV and social media. Nobody knows where local leaders, who have understanding and grasp of issues, were.
---
*Human rights defender

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