By Dishank Purohit:
“Nobody really knows what he is capable of, nor what he wishes to do should he ever attain power and responsibility. The suspicion is growing that Mr. Gandhi himself does not know.” ~The Economist (10th sept 2012)
Rahul Gandhi would be the next boss of UPA’s 2014 general election campaign, this is hardly surprising. What seems confounding is a contradiction that a personality like him who never rests playing the rhetoric of performance, tactfully evades the focus of scrutiny whenever fingers point out to his own performances.
In 2009 Rahul rose to the ranks and files of the Congress when he led his party to win 21 seats in the 15th Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh. He denied any alliance with either BSP or SP. Though Rahul Gandhi, like always, got the exclusive praise for success, poll pundits failed to notice and appreciate that the Congress war room had a well-crafted strategy, executed by a well-oiled network of Congress workers merged with the NSUI. Another factor was, that unlike today, UPA did not have any albatross of scams around its neck. Congress cracked BSP from the grassroot by successfully breaching it’s social engineering calculation. It fractured SP from the middle- thanks to SP’s family feud. All in all , UPA’s basket of performances was laden with good apples like NREGA, and across the length and the breadth of the country anti-incumbency had died down.
The acid test for Gandhi and his team was post-2G fallout, post-Anna movement elections; particularly significant
were the UP elections. Because of Rahul’s extensive travelling across UP and his support for farmers during Bhatta Parsaul incident, there was a general feeling amongst senior AICC leaders and political pundits that Congress will take away some 100 seats. This thought was seconded not only by Congress’s UP Pradesh Committee president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, but also by Rahul’s mentor and Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh.
What was the result? Out of the 355 seats Congress contested it managed to win only 28 (source). In some constituencies the margin of success was miserably narrow and victories were visible only in the last few minutes. The result was nowhere near the Congress’ expectations of 100, or at least 50 seats. Congress received 88,32,895 votes with a percentage of 11.65%. In 2007 state elections Congress had managed to win 22 seats in a state like UP, with a strong 403 seats, it can hardly be applauded as an “improvement” .
As worse as it gets, Rahul baba and his lieutenants could not properly defend Gandhi family’s castles in Amethi and Raebareli, currently represented in the Lower House by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi. Out of the 10 assembly seats, Samajwadi swept 8 seats! The fatal flaws and cracks in strategy led to the fall of Congress strongholds in Pratapgarh and Sultanpur too, ruled by Ratan Singh and Sanjay Singh.
Raibareli, since its independence has been a Gandhi bastion, in the command of Feroze Gandhi. After Feroze’s demise, it was held by Indira Gandhi but currently, it is a Sonia Gandhi constituency. Congress party lost all five assembly segments, and except for Harchandpur, all Congress candidates came third in vote tally. Adding insult to the injury – Congress lost its prestige to newborn and lesser known parties like Rashtriya Swabhimaan Party and Peace Party, and despite Rahul Gandhi’s blood-and-sweat campaign in his home constituency of Amethi, it very narrowly won two seats of Tiloi and Jagdishpur.
Buckling under media pressure, Congress prince did take responsibility for defeat, but subsequently, leaders both from Delhi and Lucknow, lined up to save Rahul Gandhi and blamed organization for running a poor campaign. The same organization was never actually credited for the 2009 victory, thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s one man show. When Congress was desperately seeking Rahul’s support to counter anti-Congress wave, why did his leadership fizzle out in Congress’s crunch times? Nobody has the answer.
This defeat was not new for Rahul; two years ago in Bihar, Rahul did extensive “helicopter campaigning”. Congress workers were festive to see the large crowd gathered for Rahul’s speeches. The Result- just 4 seats with a voting percentage somewhere around 10%.
Contrary to popular belief , Rahul Gandhi lacks mass appeal outside of his NSUI Congress supporter group. He also lacks organizational skills. Writing about his poll debacles, The Economist wrote that “his methods—poor public speaking, a failure to understand how particular castes and religious groups would act, weak connections to local organizers—did not help. The main mistake, in retrospect, may have been that he invested so much of himself in that particular poll. But similar efforts, in Bihar and Kerala, in recent years, brought similar results.” By and large he is a “phenomenon” created by the media. Only if Rahul had looked into affairs, UP PCC might not have issued tickets too late , hence candidates would have campaigned early in their areas. Note here, that Rahul has been working to improve the organization since 2007, and still everything went awry for the congress in 2012.
Why did Rahul lose in UP, Bihar and elsewhere? Because in these states, Rahul did not allow any local or regional leaderships to emerge on the ground. So even if Congress were to win elections, there would have been no credible or strong leader to become the CM. Writing in Rediff.com, Shivam Vij pointed out at this deficiency, “what was Rahul Gandhi’s pitch in the hundreds of rallies he addressed? Rahul Gandhi said he’s in UP for the long haul even if the electorate doesn’t give him too many seats. He said he won’t ally with any party after the results.
Both statements clearly reflected that Gandhi himself didn’t believe the Congress was ‘in the race’. I’m a long distance runner, he said, and the voters responded by saying okay, we’ll see you when you get there. In short, there could be no Congress ‘hawa’ because Rahul Gandhi deflated it himself. Rahul Gandhi is right that there was an SP wave that didn’t leave room for Congress. But the SP wave was there because voters asked themselves, which party looks like it is in a position to replace the Bahujan Samaj Party? The SP leadership staked that claim, and Rahul Gandhi foolishly said in his speeches, not this time. This tendency of not building ground leadership and lack of proper planning has ruined many PCCs and opened a floodgate for regional parties like SP. Can a person like this run a successful campaign for 2014 ?
Ground realities apart, Rahul Gandhi has not proved himself either as a leader or as an administrator.When Sonia Gandhi was up for treatment in US, the responsibility was handed over to A.K. Antony, not to Rahul Gandhi ,why? Because Congress was convinced that the ongoing anti-corruption and black money movements were too hot for Rahul to handle. Now let us look at his in-house performance. According to the data of PRS, in the 14th Lok Sabha, Mr Gandhi asked only three questions, and in the ongoing 15th Lok Sabha he chose to sit quiet while the others argued. If one goes by PRS data, then in the 15th Lok Sabha he took part in only one debate, did not approve any private bill and did not ask any questions either.
Writing about leadership, John Maxwell said, “A leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. This does not hold true for Rahul Gandhi. He does not know his ways since 2007, and he has shown how horrible can his ways end up ,be it in UP or Bihar. A leader takes charge and leads from the front when the times are tough, but Congress-led UPA is in such a dire need of leadership, that this is the best time for him to come out, take charge and turn things around for him, his party and his coalition.
The heydays of Congress party, when even a lamp post with a Congress name could win an election are long gone and dead, and if AICC hope to sweep elections purely on the basis of the Rahul Gandhi charisma, then I have a feedback here-
One: Rahul Gandhi is not a charismatic figure by any set of measures
Two: He is the only uninspiring figure of the Gandhi dynasty.
Nehru was a statesman, the only PM who also had the portfolio of external affairs, he was the co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement. Indira had steel determination and sheer audacity, she was the best war-time Prime Minister India ever had and for Nixon she was a nightmare. Rajiv had a vision for modern India, was fascinated by technology, and unlike his mother, he wanted to move beyond the socialist ethos. Compared to all of them Rahul has nothing. This reminds me of a precise personality description suggested by The Economist for Rahul Gandhi -“A man of immense privilege, rising only because of his family name, struggles to look convincing when he talks of meritocracy.”