New Delhi: Former US President Barack Obama, in his memoir A Promised Land, made multiple references to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, including describing him as someone who lacks “either aptitude or passion to master the subject”. His comments caused widespread furore among the Congress cadre.
In episode 621 of ‘Cut The Clutter’, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta discusses Obama’s description of Gandhi and analyses why the Congress has been struggling under him.
Congress was number three in the Maharashtra polls, lost the assembly election in Bihar and performed very poorly in the 2019 General Election. Wherever BJP and Congress had a direct fight, BJP had a success rate of 92 per cent.
Given these poor electoral performances, Gupta asked if Congress still needs to be taken seriously in Indian politics.
“The answer is yes because whoever knows politics will never take the Congress party lightly. The BJP and RSS never ignore or overlook the party or the family. Even when the Congress is not the main challenger in a state, the main target of Modi-Shah’s attack is the Gandhi family and the Congress party,” he said.
This is because it is a party that, despite everything, still gets 20 per cent of the votes every election.
Obama on Rahul Gandhi & Manmohan Singh
Obama essentially said three things about the Congress and the UPA 2’s rule in his memoir.
First was Obama’s comments that Rahul was “unformed” and lacked aptitude for politics. Second, he noted that then prime minister Manmohan Singh is a man of extraordinary intelligence, wisdom, and honesty. And finally, according to Obama, Sonia Gandhi chose Singh to be prime minister because he was seen as a Sikh with no base of his own and could never challenge her son.
Gupta said that most of Obama’s reading was right.
In UPA 2, Rahul did not do much to enhance the reputation and the stature of Manmohan Singh or his government, Gupta noted.
“Even though he was chosen by Sonia Gandhi over the reason that he will pose no threat to Rahul Gandhi, the fact that Manmohan Singh grew in stature and seemed to have won the 2009 elections essentially by himself with a larger majority caused problems for him,” he said.
Congress after Manmohan Singh
Gupta then moved onto analyse Congress’ performance under Rahul Gandhi.
“A state-wise calculation, assembly seat-wise calculation and Parliament seat-wise calculation reveal that the numbers don’t look good,” he said.
Gupta noted that it has now been more than six years since Congress has been under Rahul and he has no success to his name except the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2009, where the Congress won 20 seats.
There was also a near-success in Gujarat before the last general election where Congress and its alliance gave Modi a tough fight.
“Obama is right that Rahul Gandhi is still unformed, he isn’t a finished article in politics,” Gupta said.
According to Gupta, Rahul Gandhi has a “grasshopper mind”.
He referred to Rahul’s visit to Odisha’s Niyamgiri hills in 2010, where he declared that he was a ‘sipahi’ (soldier) of the tribals there. However, when several people lost their jobs and the mines were shut, he was nowhere to be seen.
Once he landed up in a commuter train in Mumbai in 2010, but was never again seen spending time with the working class. In Noida’s Bhatta Parsaul, Rahul had expressed solidarity with agitating farmers in 2011 against acquisition of their land. While the farmers’ land was not acquired, they still suffered and the Congress leader did not go back to the village.
“Gandhi didn’t empower Dalits, minorities and tribals in the Congress party. No effort was made to win over the tribal leaders by the party,” Gupta said.
He added that especially in the Northeast, every leader in power is either a former Congressman or a tribal leader.
“Gandhi’s actions lack conviction and that has become a pattern now, including his resignation after the election loss,” Gupta added.
He also talked about the “ideological crisis of credibility” in the Gandhi family, which it never had before.
The party displayed ideological confusion on key issues like the Ayodhya temple and Article 370.
“Congress still doesn’t know how to counter the phenomenon of Modi,” Gupta said.
‘Rahul needs to become a full-time politician’
Gupta noted that Rahul started off on the wrong foot with the old guard of the Congress. He started out by being contemptuous of them, thinking that they were dragging the party down. And this came at a time when the Gandhi family was losing its power of getting votes for their candidates
“He got rid of a lot of the old guard, who then sulked and let him run the party and elections in 2014 and 2019, which ruined things. Then Sonia Gandhi reached out to them again and Rahul Gandhi sulked,” Gupta said.
This would have worked well if Rahul had a good eye for talent, he added.
Rita Bahuguna, who was handpicked by Rahul to be the UP Congress chief, defected and is a minister with the BJP. Other leaders include Ashok Choudhary in Bihar, who was PCC chief, and is now a minister for JD(U).
“Gandhi also left Amethi and went to Wayanand to fight elections. In the middle of a war, a general doesn’t leave the place, which is his pocket burrow, but stands there and fights. The party saw this as an example of quitting,” said Gupta.
In fact, the choices that Rajiv Gandhi made — Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Rajesh Pilot, P. Chidambaram — all rose to be the party’s biggest leaders.
“If Rahul has to get anywhere, he has to become a full-time politician,” Gupta said.
In the upcoming elections of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, Congress has very little stake.
“Maybe it’s time for the Congress party to think of bigger changes now and they can deal with instability for a couple of years because their next big stakes will be in 2023 when Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan go to polls. In these states, it’s a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP and that will set the mood for the 2024 General Elections,” Gupta said.