(Ashok Malik is a columnist and writer living in Delhi)
Why do political parties exist? At their essence, they seek enough votes to run and mould the government and get the government to act on their ideas for society and the public. As such, for senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh to suggest, as he did in an interview to NDTV, that Rahul Gandhi’s motivation is to “fight injustice … [and] fight for the poor, the downtrodden and underprivileged” but is not to take executive responsibility is not just contradictory, it is hypocritical.
If Rahul has a deep desire to “fight injustice”, he can do it in many ways. He can write newspaper articles, he can set up an NGO, he can make art-house films. For better or worse, he has chosen to enter politics and has chosen the platform of a political party. As such, it is incumbent upon him to take this party to power and to lead it from the front, pushing ahead with what he considers are his policy innovations.
In the same interview, Singh spoke of the need to win back “young voters who went against us [in the recent elections]” and of the need to “reinvent our programmes”. All of this – the need to win over alienated voters, reinvent programmes and win elections, the need to use government to fulfill party programmes (“fight for the poor, the downtrodden and underprivileged”, if you take Singh at face value) – is part of a political leader’s job. He can’t pick and choose.
Narendra Modi couldn’t get away by arguing he had excellent ideas for governance and development but somebody else in the BJP had to win the election for him. All of the responsibilities were his – the designing of an election platform, the convincing of voters, the winning of a mandate and, now, governance. It’s a tough job but politics, anywhere in the world and in any competitive democracy, is never easy. The one exception to this rule seems to be Rahul Gandhi, the world’s best-known part-time politician. Far from being a 24/7 politician, he’s not even a 12/3.5.
The Congress is a pyramid, a top-down party. This means when things go right, the leader – or leader family – deservedly gets the credit. The problem is when things go wrong, the family, at least Rahul, goes missing, leaving behind the familiar contrivance of an A.K. Antony Committee.
By now Antony has headed so many introspection and inquiry committees to study so many Congress election defeats and debacles that he should have no problem submitting a report on the loss of 2014. A simple cut-and-paste job, with dates and names updated, and with a large preamble that exonerates Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, will suffice. It is only to be expected that Antony will identify symptoms and ailments, but never the cause.
Take Antony’s recent statement about there being a “feeling that the Congress bats for a few communities, especially minorities”. Are not Sonia and Rahul responsible for this situation or, even if one is charitable, this perception? In the 10 years (2004-14) it was in power, the Congress leadership flirted with the thought of reservation for Muslims, knowing that a full-fledged religious quota was a constitutional impossibility. Yet, it continued to project the idea, and the Congress president and vice-president were no less guilty.
The declaration of the entire Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh as “backward” – a variation of this stratagem is now being attempted in Maharashtra – was part of this approach. In Kerala, Antony’s home state, the Congress’ congruence with Muslim radicals and sections of the Christian clergy is so strong that in the previous state election, the CPI(M) became the beneficiary of a Hindu backlash.
That apart, any meaningful introspection should ask why the Congress wasted the mandate of 2009, when it had won an impressive re-election. The fact is, it became overconfident and was convinced the 2014 election was already in the bag. It believed its hype and decided Rahul Gandhi was the leader India awaited and the one who was going to take the Congress to at the very minimum 70-100 seats (of 403) in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election of 2012 – and revive the party in the Hindi heartland.
For three years from 2009 to 2012, about every tough or meaningful decision was put on hold. Diesel prices were not raised. The economy was allowed to suffer. The resources of the government and the party were put at Rahul’s command as he flew in and out of Uttar Pradesh. Every form of identity politics – from a Brahmin card to a Dalit card to an OBC card to a Muslim card – was attempted. In the end, Rahul took the Congress to a drubbing. After that humiliation in Uttar Pradesh in 2012, the party had no stomach for 2014. The game was over, and so was the effective life of the UPA government.
Will Digvijaya and Antony ever admit to this? Will Rahul and Sonia?