What is politics minus governance, if it isn’t mobilisation, communication and agitation? In this context, Rahul Gandhi’s 3,500-km Bharat Jodo Yatra seems to be a much-needed exercise in reaching out to the people well in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. But more than an attempt to convince voters about the credibility of Rahul’s Prime Ministerial candidature, the yatra appears to be an effort in distracting the party’s attention from the brewing rebellion within and quelling the rising questions over Rahul’s leadership. Thus, a yatra in vanity vans will not end the doubts about the inheritor’s capacity to run the family firm.
The image correction that Rahul desperately needs may not be achieved through the yatra but by contesting, winning and taking up the mantle of the Congress president.
The name Bharat Jodo Yatra itself is presumptuous, with the underlying presumption that the country is not united or that it suffers from civil strife. India remains one and diverse as usual, and hence the only recent reference points for such a national yatra are the BJP’s Ekta Yatra, led by Murli Manohar Joshi in 1991 and Anurag Thakur in 2011. But those were singularly focused on deepening the religious divide and attacking Islamist religious secessionism; they were aimed at mobilising Hindu votes against separatism, with the two yatras ending in hoisting the National Flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26. The symbolism of the ‘recapture’ of a Muslim majority province that threw its Hindu minorities out was not lost on anyone.
From the BJP’s ‘unity’ march to Rahul’s ‘let’s unite India’ march, the ‘other’ shifts from Islamist secessionists to an elected government and its PM, who are being targeted as divisive, corrosive and causing civil strife. Will the ploy work? It could have at least been a genuine attempt had the voters been voting the BJP in only over Hindutva. Modi didn’t come to power riding a Hindutva wave in 2014. His campaign was about Rahul’s leadership — with the shehzada slogans and dynastic politics — and UPA’s scams, inept governance, policy paralysis, et al. The BJP’s Pappu smear campaign convinced the people that Rahul is some sort of a Fido Dido (from the old 7 Up advertisements) character who is non-serious and frivolous — a not-yet-ready-to-take-up-responsibilities kind of an individual. And that is why there is no buzz in the Congress circles about the yatra, with all the talk focusing on the presidential polls.
The image correction that Rahul desperately needs may not be achieved through the yatra but by contesting, winning and taking up the mantle of the Congress president. He has no right to lead the party and the country if he does not attach any importance to the Congress president’s post. This office is not a family shop where the maalik can keep anyone at the counter, take the day’s collection and go partying. If the attempt is to have a family retainer hold the president’s position while Rahul does the backseat driving, he will only lose his way, as is happening in the Lok Sabha, with an inarticulate and clueless Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury talking gibberish. When even Chowdhury does not take himself seriously, how can the rest of the Opposition look up to him as its leader?
No wonder K Chandrashekar Rao, Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav and others are ignoring the Congress while trying to stitch up a national alternative. With 20 per cent votes, the Congress is indeed the second largest party and the biggest Opposition force. But with the Congressmen allowing the party to be run like a kirana store, no Chief Minister would like to sit across the table with a condescending person who does not read newspapers or talk to his own office-bearers. There has to be a sense of collegial accommodation and not that of entitlement and derision. Calling Modi a chor is being immature. And that cannot be the proof of a leader’s commitment to the Congress ideology. Neither Manmohan Singh nor Sonia Gandhi called Vajpayee a thief, nor did Vajpayee call Narasimha Rao names. Indira Gandhi didn’t do it to Morarji Desai, despite the latter locking her up. Name-calling isn’t politics, but knowing the names of all your colleagues is great organisational politics.
The Congress’ organisational politics is in a shambles not because Ahmed Patel has left a void in the party. It was the people who threw out the NDA in 2004 and reposed their faith in the leadership of the Congress because of its organisational integrity. It is the people who are not voting for the Congress now because of their lack of trust in its leadership.
There are only two options for the Congress: to have Rahul as a full-time president willing to listen to his colleagues and take all other Opposition leaders along with him without projecting himself as the Prime Ministerial candidate, or to have a non-Gandhi president. A non-Gandhi candidate by his or her very definition will be more of a coordinator and facilitator of party unity and an Opposition collective than a PM aspirant.
Organisationally, Ghulam Nabi Azad’s exit is more of a statewide split than a mere resignation. If this model succeeds, there would be many more such experiments in various states and even at the national level. Rahul should not hasten the process by pushing all his critics into the Modi corner. A G-23 leader’s aspiration should not be treated as any less than that of a member of his own coterie. Often a Rajya Sabha seat is all that makes a rebel a camp follower.
The G-23 leaders, after forcing presidential elections on the Gandhis, now have to offer a credible candidate — not a verbose MP who was imposed on his constituency by the Gandhis — who can offer an alternative to power-drunk backseat driving, with name-calling and an occasional press conference (just because Modi does not do it) as the only embellishments. Politics minus governance is also about communication through long interviews, op-ed articles, incessant meetings with people and shedding the sense of entitlement. Well, being a reluctant leader does not mean having a puppet for every post, it means leaving the heavy lifting to the heavyweights.
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