The Congress expected far more from him once it lost power in 2014. Rahul was expected to galvanize the youth and rejuvenate the party and turn it into an efficient fighting machine that could take on Modi. Rahul has failed to do that, writes Rashmi Saksena for South Asia Monitor
By Rashmi Saksena
After his September 11 address at Berkeley, USA, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family and Vice President of the Indian National Congress, is again being evaluated by political commentators.
Based on what he spoke, some see in him a candid, forthright person giving a straight from-the-heart critique on the Narendra Modi government and, more significantly, on his own party that was once led by his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, his grandmother Indira Gandhi, his father Rajiv Gandhi and now his mother Sonia Gandhi.
His detractors see him accepting his failure as a political leader. Both assessments are right in their own way. Let us remember that a political leader needs to be more than just a gentleman. As far as his party men go, Rahul is the heir in waiting. In fact they feel that the wait seems unending. This is why it is best that Rahul be evaluated as a political leader who is expected to lead the grand old national party.
Before doing so, it would help to note the profile that he has gained today. It is pertinent to point out that his main political opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has very assiduously worked at creating the"Rahul Baba" (son of an anglicized, privileged family) image for him and calling his coterie ‘Baba Log’ (the spoilt ‘baba’ lot). At the same time they have projected him as ‘Pappu’, (the colloquial term for a simpleton with no intellectual prowess).
The BJP’s ‘Demolish Rahul’ project aimed at trivializing him has been a huge success. For the average person in India, Rahul is a reluctant politician, more interested in foreign jaunts and having fun than attending to the serious business of running the Congress. He is seen as immature, with no feel for the common man and incapable of leading the Congress.
Above all, this presents a stark contrast to the image of Modi, the strong and effective leader. To paint such a picture in contrast is what the BJP set out to do and has done well, with the help of a plethora of social media jokes and dismissive statements by its leaders. The goal was to build the perception that Rahul was not prime ministerial material.
What has Rahul done and not done to reinforce this image? For this, it is necessary to assess his performance when his party was in power as well as post the like-never-before drubbing it got at the hustings. When the Congress led the UPA government at the Centre with Dr Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, Rahul chose to distance himself from governance. Not only did he refuse a ministerial berth, he even tried to project himself as an aggressive critic of Singh’s policies. His tearing up an ordinance paper during a press briefing is the most glaring example. This strengthened the perception that he was scared of taking on responsibility and impetuous.
At the organizational level, Rahul failed to deliver. He had promised a revamp of the organization from the state level. His initiatives turned out to be non-starters. At the same time, he alienated local leaders. His move to marginalize the Congress’ old war horses in a bid to introduce a youthful face for the party had a similar result. Senior leaders started to withdraw in a bid to give him space, depriving him of the benefit of the voice of experience. He acquired a reputation of surrounding himself with computer savvy and foreign educated kids.
As the Congress lost state elections, people started to view him as a failure. The Congress expected far more from him once it lost power in 2014. Rahul was expected to galvanize the youth and rejuvenate the party and turn it into an efficient fighting machine that could take on Modi. Rahul has failed to do that. Not only has he shown that, he has little administrative and organizational skills and cannot execute his vision for the party. The most important point that emerges is that Rahul does not have his finger on the pulse of the people. He does not know what the people are searching for and this is why what he says does not resonate with them or fire their imagination. He has failed to come up with something like Indira Gandhi, who electrified the masses with one single slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao Desh bachao’ (abolish poverty, save the nation) which was the theme slogan of her 1971 election bid. Rahul’s challenge is to be able to connect with the masses. Instead of showing that he can, he put forward reasons at Berkeley for the Congress being down in the dumps.
As the future hope for the party, should he stand back and distance himself from the failures of the Congress? In doing so he has not only failed his party but the people of the country who expect the Congress to present itself as a viable alternative and effective opposition to its political opponent the BJP. A large question mark looms on whether Rahul has the mettle to deliver - his party and India!
(The author is a veteran journalist. She can be contacted at email@example.com )