It pains me immensely to say that Rahul Gandhi is a loser. But well, he has come to be one. Let me hasten to clarify am not using the term in any demeaning sense, no. Much more than his inadequacies, it is the circumstances that have conspired against him, and it doesnâ€™t look like anything will change in the near future. Instead of being haunted by failures and humiliations till the very end, I think he should call it a day, though his party and the country at large could suffer as a result.
Rahul has been a shahzada, a crown prince of India for long. But May 21, 1991 was traumatic. He should have carried the scars for long, the scars possibly inhibiting him in myriad ways, and which, in turn, could be blamed for the commissions and omissions that led to repeated electoral debacles
If the Congress had survived minus the Nehru clan, it would not be facing the existential crisis it does today. Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao did successfully complete his term alright, but had also antagonized many sections, resulting in Congressâ€™s defeat in 1996. After the collapse of the United Front experiment, the BJP came to power at the head of a coalition and was voted back even though their first government was toppled in barely a year. The Vajpayee regime was lacklustre, in spite of some progress on the infrastructure front. The India shining story was hogwash, and the Vajpayee regime did not seek to push any communal narrative as a distraction, though the ugly monster had already reared its head.
Blunders since 2004
When the UPA came to power in 2004, Rahul should have joined the government and gone on to become PM five years later. But he chose to take it easy or his family chose to, perhaps they were not even sure whether he would take to active politics at the time. Remember Sonia Gandhi was strongly against her husbandâ€™s entry into politics when he was pressurized into doing so by his mother. Not that it was a family of saints, but simply that they were not keen on political power, only happy to enjoy the perks.
Rahul could easily have become the PM in 2009, but he chose to step aside yet again, not necessarily in deference to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but possibly unwilling to shoulder any burden. He would not even join the ministry despite promptings from various quarters. Why, he would not even become the Congress President for long â€“ a blunder that cost the party heavily.
All the same he could not be said to have enjoyed his position much. He was hauled around all the time for campaigns, made fun of most severely by adversaries, he was always under the lens. But he would not be left in peace.
The 2014 debacle, rise of Modi and the sheer haplessness of the Congress should have made him realize there was no running away, and he took a deeper plunge. Still it was only after winning some laurels, giving the BJP a big scare in the Assembly Elections in the Hindi belt, he assumed the reins. They wanted some halo to go with the ascent.
But the hopes of the Congress have been dashed to smithereens now. For all the hype, the party barely increased its tally and many apprehend the cave march might have begun in earnest.
Wayanad over Amethi
Thanking the voters of Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi talks of love and his â€˜determinationâ€™ to fight hatred. It all sounds clichÃ©d now and one wonders whether it will have any takers anywhere except in a few pockets. And what does he get by going around Kerala except for photo-ops and sound bytes. He should have gone to UP instead and sat down with the Amethi leaders to analyze why he lost there. Obviously, he is not his own man but allows himself to be led by self-serving courtiers or the power brokers, against whom his own father had inveighed during the Mumbai AICC session in 1985. (But he too gave in anyway subsequently, such is the party's tortured history.)
The Congress, for all its historic role during the Independence struggle, has consistently let down the people who trusted it implicitly, leading to the present mess. Jawaharlal Nehru was no doubt a great man, a visionary who deserves our respect and admiration, but who also tolerated corruption and did not get into micro-level issues, allowing things to go to seed. UP is a classic example. Not even the region he represented for years saw any development. During a visit to Allahabad a few years ago, I was appalled by the backwardness of the region, pathetic roads, youth idling away their time, poverty written all over â€¦ Was that Nehru familyâ€™s reward to their voters?
His daughter, grandsons, their wives and their children, nobody seemed to have given a damn, except for the quinquennial darshan. Why won't the people be angry and vote out the Congress?
Apart from the ways of his party or of his own family, Rahul is also to blame. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress won as many as 21 seats in the UP, standing next only to the SP which had bagged only two more - and the credit was largely thanks to tireless campaigning by the young leader.
But instead of building on that stunning triumph and reviving the party machinery, he turned to whatever interested him. The result was the Congress bit the dust in the Assembly Elections held only two years later, winning as it did only 22 seats. An alliance with the SP did not make things any different in 2016. It got worse, and Dalits, Muslims, OBCs, everyone seemed to have deserted the Congress in the recent elections.
Apart from his signal failure to grasp the need to keep in touch with the grassroots and possible arrogance, he has not been able to come clean on the corruption charges whirling around his family - and that is another big minus.
Well, he did lead a dignified campaign and he had put his heart and soul into it all. The manifesto and the NYAY scheme were masterstrokes indeed â€“ but apparently the Congress machinery to take the message to the masses was just non-existent. Priyanka too failed to click.
He did his best, but the country had been polarized horribly. Though the Modi regime had little to show for its rule, they could sweep everything before them â€“ the barely concealed attacks on Muslims, added to the image of the personal incorruptibility of Modi, and possibly some populist measures, did the trick. Not many seemed to care about the dangers of bigotry.
So then who is responsible? Nehru, Congress, double standards of the so-called secular forces, and their apologists, one can debate endlessly. But what matters is that Rahul Gandhi is in no position to fight back, whatever his rhetoric.
I would think that early in his career, Rahul Gandhi allowed himself to be smothered by his advisors, but he is in no hurry to break out of the vicious barriers. Soniaâ€™s men had advised her to beat a hasty retreat on the mauth ka saudagar attack, allowing Modi to get away easily in the Gujarat elections in 2002. Since then it was the same clique that paraded Rahul as a pious 'Janeyudhari Brahmin', and generally toned down all criticism of the lynch mobs and their orchestrators. And they are unlikely to change course in the foreseeable future.
So then we have reached an impasse. But it is best to leave the poor guy to himself and pick up the pieces of his personal life any which way he wants to. Priyanka, though seemingly smarter and having greater charisma, is unlikely to step in, anyway she is hobbled by her husband. The tunnel seems endless.
Meantime the more sensible should try and figure how best to ward off the dangers in the making.
TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Views are authorâ€™s own.