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The performance of Rahul Gandhi comes into focus as one charts the recent course of the Congress. In view of Sonia’s health if a heir apparent had to be nominated, Priyanka should have been a natural choice, for she is feisty and has a strong resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi.

(This is the second of a two part series. Click here for first part)

But Priyanka had got married in February 1997, when her mother was yet to decide on assuming the leadership of the Congress. Ten years later only the question of a successor came to assume some significance. But it was too late for Priyanka to step in, a she had become a mother of two by then and she didn’t want to be disturbed. Others in the family too didn’t like the idea, and so the mantle. fell on the shoulders of the as yet unmarried Rahul Gandhi.

According to some reports, Rahul did suffer from some kind of dyslexic problem while in college. Possibly he had been too traumatized by the horrific death of his father. And he didn’t want to enter politics at all. But fate had its own plans. His arrogance, though mellowed down a lot, his withdrawing nature, all this should have something to do with May 21, 1992.

Not many recall that he had had a love affair with some Latin American girl, and when it didn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason, he chose to stay single. Indeed at one time he did say he was on the point of getting married, though he didn’t specify who. But it didn’t come about. The point is his bachelorhood is most certainly a result of political compulsions. Why wouldn’t anyone sympathise with him on that?

He does come through as a decent guy. In the couple of interactions I have had with him, he seemed willing to give a patient hearing. Only his advisors have their own way of smothering him, and he hasn’t shown much of an inclination to break out. He did want to introduce genuine organizational elections. A model was tried out in Tamil Nadu youth wing. As usual vested interests sabotaged his idea, and one didn’t hear anything of it subsequently.

Also how humane he could be is a moot point. He was party to the decision by the Manmohan Singh government not to intervene in Sri Lanka when there were desperate requests in the last days of the Eelam war. May be he never forgave the Tigers, for while his sister came down to meet Nalini, key convict in the Rajiv assassination case, saying she wanted to know how the minds of the assassins worked, Rahul didn’t.  When asked about the meeting, he would only say it was her style and not his.

Some reports have it he didn’t care to call on Anna Hazare when he was on his fateful fasting, because he loathed the man. Many of us might share his sentiments, but in politics one has to compromise and walk the extra mile.  He also extracted from the DMK more number of assembly seats in 2011 than made sense — in the event, the party fared very badly.

If Rahul is to be lauded for reviving the party’s fortunes back in 2009, he is equally responsible for its decline too. When he lost in the family’s pocket borough of Amethi, it came as no surprise. One of the voters had complained, “He routinely contests, we routinely vote for him, but what has changed…he simply vanishes after the elections, to reappear five years hence…this should stop.”

Yet again it was thanks to his tireless campaigning and charisma, the Congress bagged as many as 21 Lok Sabha seats in UP in 2009, a jump of 12 seats from the previous polls. At the time BJP managed only ten . But he didn’t care to follow through, reorganizing the party structure or remain connected with the voters.

In the Assembly elections of 2012, the Congress managed a meager 28 seats, the BJP outstripping it with 47.  From then on, it has been on a downward slide – observers say nothing much of the party remains anywhere in this key state.

If Rahul is to be lauded for reviving the party’s fortunes back in 2009, he is equally responsible for its decline too. When he lost in the family’s pocket borough of Amethi, it came as no surprise. One of the voters had complained, “He routinely contests, we routinely vote for him, but what has changed…he simply vanishes after the elections, to reappear five years hence…this should stop.”

Seemingly unfazed, he did work hard during the 2018 Assembly elections in Gujarat and the Congress even came close to toppling the BJP.

Buoyed up, he worked harder in the next year’s Lok Sabha polls. The party manifesto was a touching testimony to the essential humanity of Gandhi-Nehru’s Congress. But unfortunately bigotry carried the day.

He has continued to be active though.  He was the one who hauled the government over the coals on  the Rafale jet issue and strongly backed the farmers’ agitation.  While the controversy over the French deal was neatly buried by a judicial activism of a different kind, the victory farmers scored did not seem to have fetched any votes for the Congress, whatever the reason. And the man should indeed be heartbroken and perhaps would withdraw into a shell yet again. In any case unfair to force him to keep bearing the cross forever.

It is Priyanka’s turn now. She too might have come to nought   in the UP-assembly polls. But she had marshaled all the resources at her command and gone about barnstorming with zest.  She is a fighter, much more so than her brother, though her husband is a baggage she should learn to jettison while dealing with party affairs.

She also should have to be more humble. In 2019 she infamously asked, “Who’s Smriti Irani?” Such arrogance doesn’t work.

On the other hand, Sonia should revamp her panel of advisors.  Those who persuaded her to give up her ‘mauth ka saudagar’ attack against Modi, those who counseled catering to the Jai Shreeram constituency and such should be kept away.

It is Priyanka’s turn now. She too might have come to nought   in the UP-assembly polls. But she had marshaled all the resources at her command and gone about barnstorming with zest

Those like Kamal Nath who advocate gau shalas and temple for Sita in Lanka are promoted but those who have little patience for the nautanki of Modi,  like Mani Shankara Iye,  are kept at an arm’s length. This should change.

The Congress should come to be known for militant secularism – of course in the current poisoned milieu, few will agree on such a course of action. But let us put it up before their Chintan Shivir, as it were. Even more important, the Congress should reconcile to the loss of its pre-eminent position and seek to fashion a federal alliance, however rickety it might prove to be. Thanks to Congress touch even the Shiv Sena prefers to remain cool, hijab or even Pakistan. So the idea should be to rope in as many as possible.

Whether it will click without some stellar performance first is another story. In any case the fight for secularism has to be carried on every day, on the streets and on social media. Only a Priyanka Vadra-led Congress can do it.


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