Rahul Gandhi must enable local leadership and end the influence of Delhi-based political strategists.
More than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the results of the five state assembly elections Tuesday will have a strong impact on the future of Congress and its president Rahul Gandhi. If the assembly elections are a ‘semi-final’ before the big final polls next year, then it is also a test for Gandhi and his team.
Nobody, least of all voters and party workers, likes a leader who is on a losing spree. And nobody would be more aware of this than Gandhi.
If the Congress doesn’t win at least two out of the four states – Mizoram won’t help Gandhi’s cause much – questions will be asked if his leadership is taking the Congress on the correct path, one that could eventually lead to Narendra Modi losing power next year.
In case the Congress wins just one state but gives a tough fight to the BJP in the other states, Gandhi would do well not to listen to excuses like the party did put up a good fight. Nobody remembers who came second in a race, especially where there are only two contestants.
Congress strategist Ahmed Patel’s victory last year in the Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat set the tone for the party’s near-revival. But the party president must remember that Gujarat is still with the BJP even if the voters seemed to have decided to give Congress a chance.
Voters like a leader and a party with a killer instinct to win at all cost.
If the Congress doesn’t win despite the strongest-ever anti-incumbency faced by the BJP chief ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, no amount of excuses will turn the truth sweet.
Bereft of finances, the Congress also needs to be in power in some more states if it wants to match the deep pockets of the BJP in the next general elections.
But if the Congress wins two out of four, then it will also give Gandhi and his team the chance to put more faith in the state leaders. It will also provide him the capital to junk, substantially if not fully, the moribund system of Delhi-based drawing room leaders who run the party while ground-level state leaders are forced to wait on them with folded hands. Many of these central leaders can’t even strategise but have positioned themselves as political strategists.
Gandhi must know that Punjab was won not because of any leader from Delhi but because of Captain Amarinder Singh, a charismatic leader with ample grassroots support. Singh was given a free hand to take on the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, and to select candidates.
The high command should intervene only if the local leadership becomes an irritant or is so unpopular that it starts to hurt the party.
The possible victory in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh will prove that the way forward for Rahul Gandhi is to place more trust in leaders like Sachin Pilot, who really toiled hard on the ground, creating the tempo for the party to build a fine campaign to dethrone Vasundhara Raje. It’s commendable that Rahul Gandhi also ensured that there was minimal friction between Pilot and the old guard led by Ashok Gehlot – at least it did not spill out and embarrass the party.
Ditto for Madhya Pradesh, where the duo of Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia worked in tandem, with former chief minister Digvijaya Singh content to play a strong supporting role.
Rahul Gandhi is no Indira Gandhi: he simply doesn’t have the charisma or connect with the masses that were the hallmark of his grandmother. What he certainly does have is perseverance and, of late, a dogged determination to win.
But to win, he needs to put more faith in his state leaders. Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana, Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra, Revanth Reddy in Telangana, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in West Bengal, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar in Karnataka.
Also, he needs to send out his Delhi-based leaders to the states and make them accountable for wins and losses. These leaders must not be measured on how well they give ‘gyaan’ on TV screens, but on how they win the elections in the states.
Unless this is done, Gandhi and his Congress will always finish second, before eventually fulfilling Modi’s dream of a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”.
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