Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed only six campaign rallies while Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi did not attend any in the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections. By comparison, PM Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah addressed over 25 rallies. Though it lost both the states, the Congress’ performance was better than expected. But Rahul Gandhi did not make any statement after the results were declared on Thursday.
ThePrint asks: Did Rahul Gandhi’s near-absence from campaign help Congress in Haryana, Maharashtra?
The Congress is a bit like Belgium, better off without someone at the helm
Co-Director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data and assistant professor, Ashoka University
In recent times, the Congress party has performed better in states where it has a semblance of on-the-ground organisation, recognisable regional leadership, and where its national leadership stayed away from campaigning in the elections.
Whenever the party high command led a campaign, it failed to leave an imprint on people, and did not connect substantially with voters, or even galvanise the Congress workers.
The election results in Punjab, Karnataka and Haryana illustrate well how the Congress is better off when it leaves the operations in the hands of capable regional leaders.
Even in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the election campaigns were led by the party’s local figures who do have experience, recognition and who stand for something more tangible than what the top leaders of the Congress do.
This is no guarantee for success as the Maharashtra election outcome shows, but it is the only way out for a party like Congress that fights for national relevance. This does not mean that there isn’t a place for accommodating a national narrative or that the party does not require strong national leadership. If it cannot figure out these two things, then the Congress party should let its regional branches do the talking, and focus on building local strength where it has none. This, however, cannot proceed from a top-down approach.
In the current political context, the Congress is a bit like Belgium, better off without someone at the helm.
Rahul Gandhi now more like any other party member, so cut him slack
It’s not even about Rahul Gandhi, but it’s about the Congress leaders he delegated responsibility to in the campaign in each state. Ashok Tanwar was his choice, but he resigned. Whatever little Rahul Gandhi campaigned, it turned out to be irrelevant.
The preparations made by the Pradesh Congress Committee played a more important role in these elections, but that is one area where Rahul Gandhi didn’t make good choices. But Sonia Gandhi does make good decisions in these.
It’s the old guard of the Congress that has come out with flying colours. Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s performance in Haryana speaks volumes about the extent of his influence. He has got a strong base of supporters.
The BJP gets a vote in the name of its leader PM Narendra Modi, but it’s not the same for the Congress. The latter has regional leaders like Sachin Pilot and Ashoka Gehlot who have the potential to make a huge difference.
Currently, there is a lot of unfair emphasis on Rahul Gandhi’s participation in election campaigns. Now that he is no longer the Congress President, he has become just another party member, but people still love to hate him. We need to cut him some slack. In fact, the Congress’ interim President Sonia Gandhi should be held accountable because she is the one in power. Her giving campaigns and rallies a miss is a more serious concern.
Rahul Gandhi has got the party ideology right, which becomes evident during instances such as the Modi government’s move in Jammu and Kashmir. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections have put him on a back foot. His primary role is to work within the party and strengthen it.
Rahul Gandhi did campaign in both Haryana and Maharashtra. This is a false narrative
There’s no question about anybody’s absence helping the party, least of all Rahul Gandhi’s. He did campaign in both Haryana and Maharashtra, so there is no point in creating a false narrative. In fact, he is working the hardest in the Congress party. He raised the Rafale issue and reiterated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cheated the nation.
The BJP is trying to portray as if there is a rift between Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. This is completely malicious. The point is that Rahul Gandhi has done extraordinarily well. It was under his leadership that the Congress won Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. So, it’s not fair to say that the Haryana and Maharashtra election results somehow indicate that Rahul Gandhi’s absence is required for the Congress to do well. He has a very important part to play in the Congress’ endeavour to fight back. Nobody’s role in the party, however small, can be discounted. We need all hands on deck.
PM Modi is only wasting his time attending rallies. He has not done something great by campaigning for his party in one state after another. PM Modi should instead be working on the economy and for Indian citizens. He should start by accepting that India’s economy has stagnated and that jobs, industrial growth and people’s prosperity are in serious peril.
Congress does better because of its regional leaders. Rahul Gandhi should focus on his vipassana
Contributing editor, ThePrint
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed only a few rallies in Maharashtra and Haryana. He was not supposed to do them. He went off to Cambodia to meditate and on his way back changed his mind. He was so unprepared that he didn’t even mention the PMC bank crisis in his speech during his Mumbai rally on 13 October, one of the top issues in Maharashtra.
The Congress hasn’t done well in Maharashtra. It had done better than expected in Haryana. Nevertheless, it has lost both states. The Congress hasn’t been completely wiped out as it was expected. This is when Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi didn’t campaign at all.
Brand Gandhi is at a historic low. Rightly or wrongly, Rahul Gandhi’s image is so poor that he puts people off. He does not resonate with voters anymore, the gaffes and fake news showing him in a bad light have tarnished his image beyond repair. However, the Congress party as such is not seen by voters as irredeemable.
Maharashtra and Haryana have shown the need for the Congress to have strong regional leaders who could help revive the party. The more Rahul Gandhi keeps away from the stage, the better it will be for the Congress. A useful comparison is the 2017 Karnataka assembly elections where Rahul Gandhi hogged the limelight, undermining the Congress’s strongest face, Siddaramaiah.
When the Congress does better, it is thanks to regional leaders, Brand Gandhi will rise on its own. Until such time, Rahul Gandhi should focus on vipassana.
As long as the voter is served Rahul Gandhi as the face of Congress, the party will continue to suffer
News Editor, ThePrint
If there’s one clarity Congress’ performance in Haryana and Maharashtra elections offers, it is that the party’s scion Rahul Gandhi should be best kept at bay in the run-up to elections. The former Congress president is a liability for his party, giving his rivals an easy target, and the voters a leader they do not find desirable.
In both the states, and particularly in Haryana, Rahul Gandhi stayed largely away from campaigning. Those in the Congress who don’t want to see how his presence weighs the party down are behaving like ostriches in the sandstorm. As long as the voter is served Rahul Gandhi as the face of the Congress, the party will continue to suffer reverses — the 2019 Lok Sabha elections being a case in point.
In states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and now Haryana — where local leaders took charge and where Gandhi wasn’t the primary factor — the Congress managed an impressive electoral show.
The question isn’t whether Rahul Gandhi has more integrity than other party leaders or if he is a principled, ‘decent ‘ politician. It is whether he embodies the qualities of a politician at all. He lacks direction, focus and seriousness.
Rahul Gandhi and the hustings don’t share a happy relationship, and the sooner the Congress realises that, the sooner it can begin to resurrect.
By Taran Deol, journalist at ThePrint