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Hathras to Haryana — Rahul Gandhi is active again but it won’t last

Rahul Gandhi may increasingly come across as a compassionate human being, but his real litmus test is consistent politics.

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Soon after Rahul Gandhi was stopped by the UP Police from moving towards Hathras last week, many began seeing a messiah in him. As his photographs with the victim’s family emerged a few days later, he was eulogised as an epitome of compassion. Someone also pointed out his regular conversations with the younger brother of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape victim. Then, he was seen leading a tractor rally to Haryana to protest against the three contentious farm bills, but he was stopped. Gandhi, it seemed, had finally arrived to deliver India and Indians from the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It is understandable. Any society woefully short of saviours always looks for a little hope, temporary relief and redemption. But, such impulsive fawning apart, can Rahul Gandhi be the chosen one? What is the Congress leader’s scorecard on the biggest front he is facing? He is arguably the most privileged politician of independent India. Bequeathed the country’s most powerful political positions without any apparent eligibility, he has held on to it with an entrenched sense of entitlement, despite his party not having a full-time president since July 2019.

Just around a month ago he and his coterie in the Congress had summarily dismissed the rightful questions about the leadership crisis that as many as 23 senior party leaders had raised. Worse, the dissenting leaders were called “traitors”. With what moral authority can the Gandhis speak for the dissenters of the Modi government, if they cannot respect dissent in their own ranks? How can Rahul expect voters to trust him when he’s losing trust of his party members?

Admittedly, his predictions on the coronavirus crisis have come true and his criticism of the Modi government seems sensible, but his CV in the crucial sphere, political acumen, continues to be dismal. His party lost the government in Madhya Pradesh and had a major scare in Rajasthan during the pandemic. A large part of the blame obviously goes to the BJP for its cynical politics, but spare a thought for the Congress leadership that cannot prevent its flock from escaping.

Also read: Taking BJP on Hathras easy for Rahul, Mayawati, Akhilesh. But on Babri case, they won’t talk

Empty rhetoric of party reforms 

Soon after the devastating defeat in the November-December 2013 assembly elections in four major states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi — Rahul Gandhi made a famous statement that he was going to “reform the party in ways you cannot even imagine”. The elections were held months before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, with the BJP having already declared Narendra Modi its prime ministerial candidate in September 2013.

The Congress had the anti-incumbency factor in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to its advantage, yet it lost and since then it’s been going down steadily across the country except for a little change in fortune in some states in 2018, only to be again routed in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Forget the internal reforms, the Congress has not been able to prevent rebellions by several regional leaders including Jaganmohan Reddy, Ajit Jogi and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Rahul Gandhi, a senior Congress leader once told me in 2016, is yet to see any failure. He might be out of the government since 2014, but his hold over the party remains absolute. The secret joys of being the final authority on even a zila congress presidential post never take leave of him.

With what moral authority can he talk about the underprivileged of India if he cannot surrender even a tiny amount of his privilege? His visit to Dalit homes would always remain vulnerable to being interpreted as a gimmick of the mighty as long as it arrives from a position of an invincible authority. Worse, given his inconsistencies, it may even appear that such visits are little more than a mood swing, an impulsive reaction to an emerging situation, rather than a mature and prolonged campaign.

No leader, we are told, has received the taunts that he does. The converse is also true. No leader has been so privileged. The taunts are merely indicative of his entrenched privileges, aptly reflected in the impetuous manner he chooses — and abandons — his campaigns.

Also read: When words lose meaning: Indian politics as a clash of visuals

Around 2 am on 25-26 May 2013, hours after several senior Chhattisgarh leaders had been killed in a fierce Maoist attack, Rahul Gandhi, then the Congress vice-president, landed in Raipur and addressed the distraught party workers. While his words were emotional, not once did he mention the ‘M’ word, or detail his strategy to deal either with the insurgents or to revive the state unit.

The crucial assembly polls in Chhattisgarh were months away — a preparation for the 2014 general elections — and the state party president Nand Kumar Patel and its tallest leader in Bastar, Mahendra Karma, were among the leaders killed. The orphaned state Congress now needed an urgent handholding from Delhi, but Rahul Gandhi did not set foot in the state after that hurried midnight visit until for routine election campaigning several months later. The emotional outburst was never matched by any concrete action. The rudderless Chhattisgarh Congress kept drifting through the elections, allowed Ajit Jogi to play his rebel note and, despite having a strong sympathy wave, lost to the incumbent BJP government. The high command displayed a stunning indifference both towards the electoral process and the genuine needs of its state unit.

Also read: ‘Entire country being pushed, no big deal if I got pushed too by UP Police’ — Rahul Gandhi

False hopes?

Precisely, therefore, the hopes pinned on Rahul Gandhi now emerge less from his own personality and more from the desperate need to pitch someone against Modi.

But public memory is short, social media’s even shorter. All those who cheer for him on social media today will bay for his blood over his inconsistencies, his unannounced foreign visits and, above all, his failure to meet the leadership crisis. Let alone voters, even those who run hashtags in his favour today will turn unforgiving in the face of another political failure.

Gandhi may increasingly come across as a compassionate human, but his litmus test lies at his backyard. How he confronts his privilege will determine his, his party’s — and to a large extent his country’s — future. In the absence of such introspection, his opposition to the Modi government will always remain vulnerable to a range of indefensible counter-assaults.

I would like to be proved wrong, but his past record shows that the optics of the Hathras visit and the tractor ride will evaporate soon, leaving behind a stark truth that his current admirers will be forced to bear in their loneliness, while he may again turn incommunicado.

The author is an independent journalist. His recent book, The Death Script, traces the Naxal insurgency. Views are personal. 

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  1. I think the columnist and the editorial director(Mr Shekhar Gupta) must take cognizance of the words they choose to churn out their opinion column headline, lest they loose their earned respect.

    Reaching conclusion that it won’t last rather than putting forth a question about if it would last, sends out two different messages. Stating that it won’t last, puts you in the realm of a soothsayer and not a journalist. Having an opinion doesn’t surmount to making prophetic claims of determined predictions.

    You’ve lost my respect with this regard.

  2. In present scenario, one more danger is that, the business world, power aspirants fully support those who are in power n likely to get power to get their things done. Party like INC which may not see to the power in near future mat not attract people without any strong n committed leader.

  3. Rahul Gandhi decoded is what this article should be titled. This is the true Rahul Gandhi. Not even a single thing changed in the Congress and all the talk about the ever youthful leader since 2004 has all gone down the drain. He needed to make a small constructive change and all the media and coterie would have been gloating over it but Mr. Rahul for reasons best known to him has been a total dampener in the entire political arena of Indian politics. HIs sudden disappearance and inconsistencies have often led people to believe that he does not even have any interest in politics but that is not true. So much for image building !

    • So you feel RG is letting congress to die … but he is still interested in politics … see the irony of your conclusion and also of the author
      Truth is what RG said in a press conference. TV media has really sold itself out. judiciary is towing the government’s line to the extent one cant differentiate what is government what is judiciary.

  4. Stopped reading after the sub-heading which says RG may come across as a compassionate human being. Dude will run away to Thailand after a few months and his mother will leave India for medical checkups, guess no trust in Nehru’s AIIMS.

  5. Man you could have written something positive. It would have strengthened the opposition. You’re too pessimistic.

  6. In the garb of giving a left handed compliment, you people are trying to market him again and again. in politics compassion, decency etc. does not matter. you also know it. what matters is vision and leadership qualities. he has proved again and again that he does not have it. because of him other young turks in the congress are missing out. it’s time certain section of the press stop trying to prop him up again and again.

  7. Congress can launch Rhea’s political career. She has the Congress pedigree now after spending time in jail for drugs and abbetment to suicide.

  8. You must come out of your own prejudices, else won’t be able to note the change
    Rather than expecting from others, your litmus test is whether you can see and judge truth on your own or through feedings by someone. It shows when you are trying hard to reject someone but so much keeping focus on him for such a long time. It itself shows consistency of rahul gandhi in highlighting failures of current government. If you don’t believe so, you are free to find leader as honestly consistent on his points, firm on his standing in spite of all odds that to with dignity as him

  9. Nice to read a sober article for a change in The Print, subjected as we are to constant, high pitched negativism that characterizes the work of most of the “finest young reporters” in its stable.

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