Congress: Rahul’s Long Journey!
The Congress Vice-President went missing for 58 days and then he returned home with a new confidence and a new Twitter handle
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
After mysteriously disappearing for 58 days, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has managed to patch up his tattered reputation by talking for 40 minutes and walking for 36 kilometres. In short, he accomplished more with two 20-minute speeches in Parliament and at Delhi’s Ram Leela Maidan, a 16-km trek to Kedarnath and a 20-km walk through the parched farms of Vidarbha than he has managed in 10 years as a Member of Parliament and Vice-President of the grand old party.
A recharged and rehabilitated Rahul stumped both the BJP and the Congress leaders who saw an opportunity for themselves in the Gandhi family’s apparent faltering. His rebooting is challenging the hold of the likes of Ahmed Patel over the organisation. What needs to be seen is whether Rahul is here to stay.
This brings other important questions to the fore. Has Rahul been judged incorrectly in the past or now? Were those people wrong who dismissed him as a liability for the Congress when he went on a long and seemingly unending sabbatical? Or are Congressmen being prematurely ecstatic over their young leader finding his feet and voice? Many such questions are troubling Congress leaders who were rendered idle and clueless after the worst loss the party has ever experienced in the 2014 elections. They have been waiting for a strategy that provides them a roadmap for the revival of their fallen fortunes.
While Rahul was recharging himself like a depleted cell phone battery, few Congressmen believed he would return as the answer to their prayers. He just did not have it in him to make rain. Leaders like Punjab’s Amarinder Singh and Kishore Chandra Deo made their opposition to him amply clear. So did Sandeep Dikshit, son of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. They said that, in this hour of crisis and distress, only Sonia Gandhi’s leadership could help the Congress party. This was a polite way of saying the party was better off with Rahul on vacation, and it might be better still if he never returned to the heat and dust of India.
Some went so far as to predict that he would do just that. For a short while, their reading seemed correct when he did not show up for committee meetings ahead of the Ambedkar birth anniversary celebrations. This resulted in the Congress leadership scaling down the event on account of Rahul’s absence. It was Congress leader and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, whose politics is aligned with Rahul’s, who forcefully asserted that the Gandhi scion would indeed return to attend the rally opposing the land acquisition Bill.
Rahul did show up for the rally, much to the delight of his mother and some of his followers. But many old-timer Congressmen were not enthused. They were cognisant of the tension between mother and son over reorganisation of the party and countenancing the
Rahul has felt uncomfortable with old-timers and has consciously tried to stay away from them. In the campaign for the last parliamentary elections, he had tried to deny tickets to many established Congress leaders with sullied images. He had felt that if they could be replaced by younger Congress leaders, the party could fight the anti-incumbency wave sweeping the country.
Sonia and her close advisers disagreed with him and chose to accord primacy to loyalty. Their calculation was that, as the election would be expensive, only affluent, long-time politicians could afford it.
As a result, the rift between Rahul and the old-timers naturally sharpened. And the tension deepened as the Congress Vice-President avoided meeting any senior leaders on his visits to various parts of the country. Sometimes, these Congressmen showed up in starched khadi only to be openly snubbed by him.
Sonia, according to Congress sources, was disapproving of his attitude and, after earlier Assembly election debacles, suggested that he should take everyone along. Witnesses recount how she pleaded with him to end his antagonism toward the old guard. And, they say, Rahul did agree to accommodate the senior leaders.
But the parliamentary elections clearly showed how the entire organisation was not pulling together. The young leader did not address any serious meeting. His meetings were organised, on many occasions, by the Congress Seva Dal and NGOs related to his party. All these factors, added to the party’s awful image of corruption, saw to it that the Congress stood no chance against Narendra Modi’s vigorous campaign.
Now, however, the return of Rahul in his new avatar has begun to challenge the assumption that the party had no answer to Modi. Rahul is making his voice heard amid the cacophony emanating from the treasury benches. Is it due to his invigorated self or to Modi’s fading image? Both, perhaps.
Rahul seemingly has a better team now, which is using data analysis to identify issues the masses are concerned about and what they would like to hear—as Modi’s team did in the 2014 elections. During his 58-day sabbatical, he apparently gained a new understanding of the social constituency the Congress should target as well as the language the party should use.
The Congress Vice-President has also been made to understand that there is no political party that is really articulating the cause of the poor farmers, left disadvantaged after the erosion of the appeal of the Left parties. Hence, his repeated assertion that the BJP and its leader’s policy are only meant to help rich corporate houses has struck a chord with rural Indians insecure about their livelihood and future.
The unseasonal rains that destroyed crops on lakhs of hectares of land all over the country also helped in the farming community arraigning behind the Congress Vice-President. His short speech in Parliament, delivered with ease and casualness, surprised several BJP leaders. His allegation that the BJP’s is a “suit boot ki sarkar” stumped the treasury benches. He had scored a major point.
Subsequently, he travelled to frosty Kedarnath, hit by floods and landslides, where the temple doors were to be opened for pilgrims. He used language that would gladden Hindu hearts when he claimed he had felt recharged inside the temple. Later, he trudged the arid land of Vidarbha, where farmer suicides are routine.
His energy is causing some unease amongst the ageing BJP circles as well as the Congress old guard. The former are querying mediapersons sotto voce where the young leader might go next while what Congressmen want to know is, will Rahul’s frenetic journeys lead to the party’s revival? Or will he end up going on yet another prolonged vacation? That will be the ultimate test of what Rahul learnt during his 58-day sabbatical.