Rahul Gandhi, the leader of Congress Party after the election results has been most unlike a leader. Failures and disappointments are part and parcel of a leader’s life. If you come forward and thump your chest when the organisation succeeds then you have to take the onus and be equally upfront when it fails. Unfortunately the Gandhi scion after the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on 25 June 19 went and locked himself in his home. Without a doubt the party was demoralised after the results and needed its leader to reassure all its cadres. Instead Rahul Gandhi was sulking, uncommunicative and unavailable at a time when they needed him most. That is certainly not leadership.
At the CWC meeting he lashed out at three senior leaders who had canvassed and managed to get tickets for their sons. He stated that this was one of the reasons Congress fared so poorly. He forgot that the selection of candidates was done in consultation with him and other senior functionaries in the party. One wonders why he, as President of the party, did not put his foot down. It is obvious he could not because he himself is a beneficiary of family lineage and family name. What about Priyanka Gandhi being inducted at the top level just weeks before the elections? How can those who live in glass houses throw stones at others? Rahul did just that at the CWC meeting. He also blamed Mr Chidambaram for the poor drafting of party manifesto. Was the party manifesto released without party Presidents approval? It would be insane to assume it was. If both these issues had his approval, then it defies all tenets of good leadership to blame others for the poor results.
If Rahul Gandhi looks back sincerely he will find that his party lost mainly because of the limited narrative that he was repeating for over three months prior to the elections. His jibe of ‘Chowkidaar Chor Hai’ and flogging the issue of corruption in Rafael deal was fine if he had used the same sparingly and moved on. But he got carried away beyond all rationality and assumed that these two would land him in the Prime Minister’s chair. He made no efforts to gauge the perception of voters and what they felt about the deal or the persona of Prime Minister Mr Modi. This was a serious leadership mistake and his party paid for it dearly. Coming on the heels of his most stupid act of hugging the PM in parliament and then winking at his cronies, the public knew he was only playing to the gallery without any substance in his charges. If Rahul had shown more respect for his worthy opponent, he would certainly have fared better. Leadership is not about running down opponents. It is more about respecting them and understanding their strengths so as to be in a better position to challenge them.
Priyanka Gandhi was touted as the ace of trumps by all in the party. A huge build up was engineered to build her image including serious hints at regular intervals that she would take on Mr Modi in Varanasi. Surely all this was happening with knowledge of the party President. But what happened finally? She just skunked away from a contest. By not fielding her from Varanasi, Rahul and his party paid dearly and her entry became a damp squib. It was a given that she would lose against Mr Modi. But the message that would have gone to the party cadres and some voters would have paid rich dividends to the party if she had shown the courage to contest. In the same vein Rahul made a serious mistake in seeking refuge in Wayanad constituency. It clearly showed that he had lost hope in Amethi and was ready to abandon it for more promising pastures.
If Congress did badly in states where it is in power, once again the blame lies with the President of the party. Why did he ignore the rightful claims of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot for the positions of Chief Ministers and instead appointed Kamal Nath and Gehlot in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively? It is no secret that the two young leaders had done all the hard work for years to bring Congress back in these two states. When leaders fail to reward merit and instead reward hangers on (durbaries) then party has to suffer. If top leaders fail to recognise and groom talent in the organisations then they are not fit to be where they are.
What about the horrendous decision in Karnataka, against all sane advice, to prop H D Kumaraswamy of JDS as the Chief Minister who had only 38 seats when Congress had 78. Once again that decision was taken out of a fixation to keep BJP away at all costs. Fixation is good when it results in determination but always wrong when it becomes an obsession. The former goes by reasoning but the latter is devoid of reasoning. Congress President’s decision to play second fiddle to JDS in Karnataka smacked of obsession.
Does Rahul Gandhi have credibility in Indian political circles? Apart from the political sycophants within his party and a few other hangers on, he does not enjoy this distinction anywhere else. Most other parties see him as a loser and have refrained from forming alliances with Congress while he is at the helm. If some in his party want to deny the same, it is their prerogative. India is a democracy and living in a fool’s paradise is no crime. When leadership role is trust on some more because of family lineage then merit, there will always be pressure on such individuals and Rahul Gandhi is no exception. It was the joke of the day when a senior Congressman said in an interview recently that Rahul is maturing now. He is fifty years of age, had access to best political grooming from birth, has been a member of parliament since 2004 and we are still talking about whether or not he has matured. That possibly says everything about Rahul Gandhi and where he stands today. The original Piper led all the rats to the sea and drowned them to rid his city of a deadly plague. One will have to wait and watch to see what Rahul the Piper does to the Congressmen in the years to come. As on date it is not very promising for the party.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.