A crown of thorns, if one

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 05, 2017

His ascension has only diminished Rahul’s political stature; an electoral victory alone will gain him credibility

The grandeur of the past and luminescence of his predecessors are hardly likely to shield Rahul Gandhi from the contempt of the kind Prime Minister Narendra Modi heaped on his ascension as Congress President this week.

The fifth generation Nehru-Gandhi was mocked on Monday by the PM as perpetrating “Aurangzeb Raj”, as he prepared to take over what has remained a shadow of the Congress, having lost most of its social base to other parties, reduced to third or fourth position in more than 10 big States and its worst-ever presence in the Lok Sabha.

Disappointing show

If at all, the fact that he would be acquiring an office once graced by luminaries such as Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad et al diminishes Rahul’s political stature even further.

There is very little in his resume to elicit people’s trust even if a sudden awakening of his political acumen has led to the Congress acquiring a plausible manner in the ongoing Assembly election campaign in Gujarat.

For the 13 years that he has been MP, General Secretary and Vice-President of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), Rahul has presided over one election debacle after another and shown disappointing results in stemming the structural decline of the party in critical provinces.

In the first-past-the-post electoral system, a political party has a chance of winning and forming a government only if it is in the first or second position in terms of vote share. If it slips to third or fourth position, a political recovery becomes very remote.

The criticality of the Congress’s decline is apparent when seen in the context of elections in the past 50 years. Between 1967 and 1984, the Congress slipped to third or worse position only in three States, overwhelmingly retaining the second place even where it lost. But after 1989, the Congress has slipped to third or worse position of political irrelevance in four major States — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. After 2014, the Congress is in the third or worse position in 10 States, effectively losing chances of winning elections and forming government in these provinces and losing its grip in an overwhelming 320 Lok Sabha seats.

Given this reality, the future Congress President’s political graph looks even more uninspiring. For the 10 years that the Congress-led UPA was in power, Rahul has occasionally hit headlines — for taking up farmers’ causes and protesting against industrial projects in tribal areas like Niyagiri in Odisha.

Once, on September 27, 2013, he barged into a press conference and tore up an ordinance perceived to have been drafted to shield convicted politicians.

He has, as AICC General Secretary in charge of the Congress’s youth and students’ wing, revamped these organisations and brought in younger recruits. In side-lining old hands such as Ahmed Patel in conducting the Gujarat Assembly polls, the future Congress President also shows that he would be far less pragmatic and willing to deal with established structures in the party in the manner that Sonia did.

However, political parties and leaders are formed and destroyed during elections.

Rahul’s experiments in past elections, especially the most critical assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh where he forced an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, have not yielded success.

Green shoots

The Congress is showing some green shoots in Gujarat where the BJP faces 23 years of anti-incumbency and a crop of young leaders, especially the Patidar youth icon Hardik Patel, have been enrolled by Rahul to compensate for his party’s lack of organisational strength and local leadership. If these efforts bear fruit, the new Congress President would have found a reason to exhale and the much-needed political credibility.

Till then, Rahul Gandhi’s ascension does the Congress little good even in terms of political symbolism.

Published on December 05, 2017
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