Rahul withdrawal into shell can be fatal for self, party; may help rivals ensnare bigwigs

Rahul Gandhi,
Rahul Gandhi. Photo: Facebook

Those who know the Ramayana would agree going into the kop bhavan (sulking chamber) can have disastrous consequences. In the epic most Indians know by heart, Dasratha’s favourite queen Kaikeyi recedes into her private quarter to express displeasure with the king’s decision to anoint Rama as his successor. Her act sets off a chain of events that leads to Rama’s exile, Dasratha’s death, Bharat’s abdication, Sita’s abduction and Ravana’s death after a brutal battle.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, is reportedly in kop bhavan of his Tughlaq Road residence after the party’s defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. He has cut off communication with the world outside and is refusing to see anyone other than his mother and sister. On Tuesday, he even refused to entertain Rajasthan Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot, who had gone to meet him in the hope of a truce in a battle that threatens to bring down the Congress government in the desert state.

Sulks can broadly be categorised into two types. There is the one that gets absolutely no attention, goes unnoticed and dies on its own because basically nobody gives a damn to its exponent. This type of sulk rarely causes any damage except to the ego and the hubris of the person who indulges it.

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But, the other type of sulk, which gets wide attention, makes a large mass of people fuss over the fretting person and unite heaven and earth to liven up the exponent’s mood, can be extremely dangerous. King Dasratha, unable to see his favourite wife in a foul mood, agreed to her irrational demands and ruined his entire family. Rahul’s current spell of anger and self-imposed isolation could ruin whatever is left of the Congress parivar.

First, it is difficult to understand what Rahul is angry about. Prima facie, his gussa appears to be similar to the rage of Albert Pinto– the main protagonist of an eponymous Bollywood film—over his inability to succeed in spite of hard work. The Congress president might be angry that in spite of working for five years, he could win just 8 more seats for his party, that too primarily because of gains in Kerala and Punjab.

But, why is he taking it out on his colleagues, holding them responsible for the Congress rout? What’s the point of not meeting Gehlot, Pilot and other senior leaders? In doing so, he is ignoring the biggest message of the 2019 polls: Voters didn’t see Gandhi as a viable alternative to Narendra Modi. In the run up to the polls, every opinion poll was predicting at least a 30 percentage point gap between his and Modi’s popularity, suggesting that there was no chance for the Congress chief in a presidential-style election.

In fact, when it came to choosing between the BJP and the Congress in the Assembly polls, voters actually preferred state satraps like Pilot, Gehlot, Kamal Nath and Scindia. But when it came to choosing between Rahul and Modi, even Congress voters changed their mind. So, blaming others for the Congress failure is irrational, illogical and a bit immature.

Also, it is a bit daft to argue that the Congress lost because Rahul did not have a free hand, his control over the party was weak or some seats were allotted without his assent. In the Congress culture, almost every candidate is chosen after it is cleared by its central election committee, headed by the party president. So, Gehlot’s, P Chidambaram’s, Kamal Nath’s sons were in the poll fray with the party chief’s approval. Getting upset about their candidature is futile.

Rahul has every right to resign his job, ask someone else to lead the party. But, the way he is doing isn’t right. For, in spite of his electoral loss, Rahul is still the head of a party that polled nearly 20 per cent votes across India. He just can’t act like King Edward VIII and abdicate everything on a whim. By his self-defeating logic, the entire country should be angry with Sonia Gandhi for allowing her son to contest, and that too from two seats.

Instead, he needs to throw his doors open to everyone, sit in his diwan-e-aam (not kop bhavan) and discuss the reasons for the party’s failure, its future and his successor. Since the Congress is sinking, it is quite likely that the rats on the Congress Titanic would start jumping out soon. Simultaneously, finding the party headless, its ambitious leaders would start fighting with each other for power—Gehlot and Pilot, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia are already jostling. Rahul needs to become visible, available and deal with the current and future crises.

It is easy to get disheartened by defeat. But, Rahul should realise that the Congress has almost nothing else left to lose. In fact, if he works diligently, acts rationally, the Congress chief can capitalise on two important developments in 2019: One, the BJP’s victory on emotive issues like Balakot, national security and muscular nationalism. How many more times will the BJP use such emotive issues to divert attention from real issues like economy, employment, rural income, education and healthcare?

Two, like the Congress, regional parties have also been decimated everywhere except south India. The space for the opposition is open in crucial states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. The vote banks represented by BSP, SP, RJD, INLD and many smaller parties are in a flux, their leaders are distraught and demoralised. If the Congress reconnects with the masses, goes back to the field, it can emerge as the principal adversary and fill up this vacuum.

But, all this can happen only if Rahul stops emulating Kaikeyi immediately. If he doesn’t, like Dasratha, the Congress will wither away, and, like Rama, witness a protracted vanvas from power. And, like Sita, many of its leaders would be snared by its rivals.

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