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[Analytics] Rahul Gandhi, Indian Congress and the fight to stay relevant

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi needs to come out of the self-imposed lassitude and despair. (File photo: Reuters). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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Rahul Gandhi, the former Congress president, is looking more and more like a petulant princeling than a chastened leader. His “At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it” line in his resignation letter seems to come from a nonplussed novice lost in the political maze of Indian politics rather than from a heroic figure, tragic in his loss but still standing tall in the midst of ruin. Yusuf Begg specially for the India Today.

Rahul Gandhi has to come out of his self-imposed ennui and despair. The party that he helmed for some time and had come to see as a family heirloom is slowly unravelling. The cracks are developing faster than one could imagine.

The ebb and flow in Karnataka is turning out to be an embarrassment for the party. It was just a lust for power that Congress signed up to be a junior partner to Janata Dal (Secular) and stitched an alliance to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at bay.

In the 2018 Karnataka assembly election BJP was the single largest party after winning 105 seats out of the 225. Congress won 79 and JD (S) 37. The latter two came together to form the government, which has since been roiled with internal contradictions.

The initial brinkmanship in Karnataka was followed by dissension within the Congress. A bunch of MLAs have raised the banner of revolt and resigned from the assembly.

Contagion spreads

Things aren’t better in some other states too.

In Gujarat Congress had egg on its face. Two of its MLAs – Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala – cross-voted in favour of BJP candidates in the Rajya Sabha bypolls. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and OBC leader Juglaji Thakor sailed through to the Rajya Sabha.

Both the Congress MLAs resigned from the assembly and are likely to join the BJP. After resigning Alpesh Thakor said: “I have cast my vote for honest national leadership…I got nothing other than mental stress while in Congress.”

By quitting Alpesh Thakor, once seen as a rising star in Congress and a bridgehead in the state’s other backward classes, has dealt a blow to Congress.

Things haven’t been rosy in Maharashtra either.

Post-Lok Sabha drubbing Ashok Chavan had resigned as state chief. On Sunday, Milind Deora put in his papers as Mumbai Congress president and said he was looking forward to playing a meaty role in national politics.

This led to Sanjay Nirupam, who was replaced as Mumbai Congress chief by Milind Deora ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, to sardonically tweet: “There is a sense of sacrifice in a resignation. But here a ‘national-level’ position is being sought. Is this a resignation or a ladder to climb up? The party should be wary of such ‘hard-working’ people.”

The fault lines are all too obvious. Veteran Congress leader and former leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil is now a minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government. With state elections round the country, Congress is leaderless and floundering.

Congress’s organisational structures in most other states are in a shambles where workers are, to use diplomat Ronen Sen’s words, “running around like headless chicken”.

Leading from the front

This is where Rahul Gandhi should step in and show that he is made of sterner stuff. His resignation should be respected. If he stands true to what he said in his letter — “I am a loyal soldier of the Congress party and a devoted son of India and will continue to serve and protect her till my last breath” — then he must step up now and show his loyalty to his party.

Like it or not the Gandhis are an integral part of the Congress party. Not as bits and pieces players but the heart. It is naive to expect Sonia Gandhi or her children – Rahul and Priyanka – to shed their prima donna robes and become furniture in the Congress headquarters.

Rahul wants to be just a plain Congress worker; he doesn’t want his mother or sister to lead the party. Fine. But right now he has to accept the challenge and grab the party by the scruff of its neck and give it a good organisational shake.

For reasons that can be discussed elsewhere, Congress remains the only viable party to take on the saffron juggernaut. It falls on the party to stand up for a large swathe of India’s polity. He has a moral duty to reshape the Congress, shed the deadwood and then step back.

India is staring at the looming spectre of fascism. The signs are obvious. India needs a strong opposition to fight the forces of obscurantism and narrow-mindedness. And it is for the Congress, if not to lead then be part of this opposition.

Rahul Gandhi should remember that India’s democracy is at stake. A single person’s idea of India – without its myriad symphonies and views — can transform the country into a prison. He should know. His grandmother did it.

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