Rajmohan Unnithan was not the main speaker at a Congress rally in Jaipur Tuesday to articulate youth anger against the Narendra Modi government’s economic policies. There were no giant cut-outs of K. Sudhakaran on the rally grounds. The entire Congress party from Jammu to Jamnagar wasn’t tweeting about what K. Muraleedharan said at the rally, because he wasn’t invited to speak.
The Congress party recently went to the National Human Rights Commission to complain about the state of human rights in Uttar Pradesh. M.K. Raghavan was not part of the delegation.
When the Congress party sat on a protest against CAA-NRC at Raj Ghat, V.K. Sreekandan was not present. In case he was, it was not a presence highlighted by the Congress party before the world.
When Sonia Gandhi recently called an all-party meeting to discuss the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Ramya Haridas was, perhaps, not in the room.
The Shiv Sena was among the parties that skipped this meeting, refusing to be treated like a subject summoned to Delhi by the monarch. Nevertheless, to make amends, Aaditya Thackeray visited Delhi the next day and met Congress leaders. However, he did not meet Benny Behanan.
Assam has been protesting against the CAA, and at least four people have died in the state due to police firing. But T.N. Prathapan has not visited Assam.
In the recent state assembly elections in Jharkhand, the Congress party held a few rallies. But Adoor Prakash did not address a single one of them. He did not even visit the state.
Similarly, Anto Antony Punnathaniyil did not address any rally ahead of the Maharashtra assembly election. Not his fault, the Congress party did not ask him to. The Congress did not ask Kodikunnil Suresh to address any rallies in the Haryana assembly election either.
No one in the Congress party is demanding that Dean Kuriakose be made party president, since Sonia Gandhi is only the interim president. Next month, the Congress party will either extend her term or make someone else the party president. There is no speculation in the media that Hibi Eden could be made the next president.
The third-most important politician
In case you are wondering who these people are, they are all Lok Sabha MPs elected on a Congress ticket from Kerala — just like Rahul Gandhi. However, all the above events had Rahul Gandhi as the central figure, or at least one of the central figures.
If Rahul Gandhi is just an MP from Kerala, why is he at the centre of the Congress party’s national programmes?
Whether or not Rahul Gandhi holds any position in the party, he remains the party’s national face, and the Gandhi family’s heir apparent, a term used to describe “an heir whose claim cannot be set aside by the birth of another heir”.
Rahul Gandhi’s defenders and Congress supporters often rebut criticism of Rahul Gandhi by asking, “If Rahul Gandhi is so irrelevant, why do you keep criticising him?”
But Rahul Gandhi is not irrelevant. Being the face of the main opposition party makes Rahul Gandhi the third-most important politician in India, after PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
These defenders will further say that Rahul Gandhi’s critics have some personal obsession with him. The same people have a personal obsession with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Here’s how it works: you cannot talk about national politics without talking about the key figures who shape it, and Rahul Gandhi remains one of them — unfortunately.
The fear of success
When Boris Johnson won the UK election last month, his opponent Jeremy Corbyn decided to resign, categorically stating he won’t lead the Labour Party into another election, ever. Technically speaking, Rahul Gandhi also resigned from the post of Congress president, saying he accepts responsibility for the defeat in a voice so mild you could barely hear it. Far from declaring that he won’t ever lead the Congress, Rahul Gandhi is busy, between foreign trips, trying to revive his political career for the 1,000th time.
The open and obvious attempt to once again make it tenable for Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress president makes his resignation look like a charade.
For the sake of the health of Indian democracy, we need to continue to be ‘obsessed’ with Rahul Gandhi. The Congress party’s main objective today is to re-establish Rahul Gandhi, not defeat the BJP. These two goals often don’t go together. The Congress party’s slogan is not ‘Desh bachao’ but ‘Rahul bachao’.
For example, the reason why the Congress wouldn’t make a Shashi Tharoor (another MP from Kerala) leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha is because it doesn’t want an articulate speaker who might overshadow Rahul Gandhi. So, the party prefers an Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, even if his utterances are an embarrassment to the party.
Rahul Gandhi himself wanted a non-Gandhi to be party president, but Sonia Gandhi became interim president instead. She cannot afford to take the risk of letting a non-Gandhi take over the command and control of the party. In the off chance that such a person succeeds, why would anyone want Rahul Gandhi to return as president?
Habituated to failure, the Congress party is afraid of success. What if someone else succeeds, Rahul ka kya ho ga?
The more things change
When the Congress party lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it had a mock-introspection in the form of an A.K. Antony panel. This time it didn’t even do that. Any introspection exercise will have to find fault with Rahul Gandhi’s strategies and we don’t do that, we don’t say the prince was wrong.
The results on 23 May changed absolutely nothing in Rahul Gandhi’s life — nothing at all. He’s still the national face of the party, he’s still ranting against Modi instead of telling us about his ideas and achievements, and he still takes one foreign trip after another.
The Congress waits for Rahul Gandhi to return from South Korea before it can protest at Raj Ghat against the CAA. The Congress waits for Rahul Gandhi to return from Italy before it can hold an all-party meeting on CAA.
He makes an average of 5 foreign trips a month, according to the Modi government, if those many trips are possible. Even his un-obsessed defenders are no longer able to defend his foreign trips in the name of ‘work-life balance’. The people of India need an alternative who at least stays in India, Sharad Pawar said last month. Even after this public rebuke from a veteran politician, Rahul did not give his New Year’s holiday a miss.
Here’s a man who doesn’t try a different approach even for the sake of experiment. Like Einstein’s definition of insanity, Rahul Gandhi will keep doing the same thing no matter how many times he fails. And no matter how many times he fails, he will remain the face of the national opposition. Do we not deserve better?
Views are personal.