Rahul Gandhi plods on, and gets hated by all
Rahul Gandhi, no longer the Congress president, is everybody’s favourite punching bag. The latest in this episode being chief minister Devendra Fadnavis seizing upon senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s remark that people ran away instead of holding the flock together after the party’s debacle in the general elections this summer.
I agree with Khurshid that Gandhi should not have abandoned the field after the electoral defeat – there are stalwarts in this country like LK Advani and the late Bal Thackeray as well as Sonia Gandhi who suffered even worse defeats, but were never affected by those losses, hanging on to live and fight another day. But one cannot really fault Gandhi for doing the honourable thing and taking responsibility for the defeat and making way for someone who might be more capable of leading the party. So why do Khurshid and others in the Congress still have expectations from Rahul Gandhi?
Even Maharashtra’s Congress leaders sat back wringing their hands until Gandhi arrived in Maharashtra and hit the campaign trail. Now, Fadnavis has picked on Gandhi and said he has no new issues to speak about and is still stuck on the issues he raised during the Lok Sabha polls. But Fadnavis and other BJP leaders, too, have nothing to write home about, apart from picking on Gandhi. There is, once again, a negative campaign by BJP leaders who, against the backdrop of a very palpable anger among their core voters of traders, businessmen and the Gujarati community, have nothing to talk about the achievements of their government both in the state and at the Centre. Instead, BJP president Amit Shah is talking about Article 370, hoping it will prove as effective as the Pulwama and Balakot rhetoric. Working president JP Nadda can only speak of corruption in the Congress and NCP, which may have been relevant in the 2014 Assembly elections, but not now as the parties have been out of power for the past five years and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath can only blame the Congress for its sins going back more than 70 years – in the mishandling of the Kashmir imbroglio. And, of course, Fadnavis can only mock Rahul Gandhi, having spectacularly failed at generating a USP for his government in the past five years.
In that sense, this election is proving to be Maharashtra’s most lacklustre and least exciting. And that is showing in the mood of common people, who are turning up only in sparse numbers at election meetings of all political parties, including that of the BJP.
But that is not quite as demoralizing to the BJP, Shiv Sena or even NCP, as it is to the Congress. Perhaps Gandhi should have been satisfied with the success of his smaller corner meetings in Mumbai and a slightly larger one in Latur, where people seemed not to have forgotten his earlier slogan of “Chowkidar chor hai” that he had used at the Lok Sabha elections. Perhaps, that is what has angered the BJP, which is facing fresh social media ridicule over Union defence minister Rajnath Singh’s handling of a supposed Rafale aircraft and they are pouring fresh scorn on Rahul Gandhi , saying that his very presence in Maharashtra means the Congress is losing the polls. But one must give credit to Gandhi for plodding on despite having no responsibility within the organisation. In the midst of complete demoralisation of party workers, his legacy continues to come to the rescue of the party. One of his handpicked general secretaries in charge of Rajasthan, Avinash Pande, who essentially hails from Maharashtra, has set up a war room to whip up the morale of the workers that had proved very successful at the Rajasthan elections last year. Despite BJP leaders mocking him, if the Congress performs even marginally better than it is expected to, the credit would have to go to the war room which is linking workers at every booth to the party leadership and attempting to whip up their enthusiasm in the face of all the demoralisation.
Even though the party does not expect much at this eleventh hour, the effort is reflective of the former party president’s refusal to retreat in the face of every adversity. Time will tell if the BJP leaders are proved right or not, but the Congress does not know they have something unique in Rahul Gandhi. He never gives up. Perhaps that is why BJP leaders and senior Congressmen detest him so much.