Leadership vacuum hits INDIA’s poll prospects - Hindustan Times
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Leadership vacuum hits INDIA’s poll prospects

Dec 09, 2023 10:15 PM IST

For their alliance to get off the ground, the Congress will have to be humble, not a quality it’s renowned for. They must draw up sellable policies

A member of Parliament faced at present with the probability of fighting the general elections due within six months under the INDIA bloc’s flag said to me, on Thursday night: “He hasn’t had the guts to appear in Parliament after the defeat. He’s said nothing about the results. What sort of a politician is he?” The “He” was Rahul Gandhi. The “defeat” was the Congress’s failure to win even one of the northern states in the recent assembly elections. One of my criticisms of Rahul has been that he doesn’t look like a politician. My MP friend added, “He doesn’t behave like one either. Why did he go straight to Britain after putting all that effort into his padayatra that he took to build up an image of being a leader?”

Congress leaders Rahul gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (ANI) PREMIUM
Congress leaders Rahul gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (ANI)

A member of Parliament faced at present with the probability of fighting the general elections due within six months under the INDIA bloc’s flag said to me, on Thursday night: “He hasn’t had the guts to appear in Parliament after the defeat. He’s said nothing about the results. What sort of a politician is he?” The “He” was Rahul Gandhi. The “defeat” was the Congress’s failure to win even one of the northern states in the recent assembly elections. One of my criticisms of Rahul has been that he doesn’t look like a politician. My MP friend added, “He doesn’t behave like one either. Why did he go straight to Britain after putting all that effort into his padayatra that he took to build up an image of being a leader?”

Of course, it’s a handicap to becoming a leader if you are not a leader, and Rahul is not. The leader and president of the Congress party, the octogenarian Mallikarjun Kharge showed up to pay tribute to BR Ambedkar in Parliament on Wednesday. He was accompanied by Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi. There was no sign of Rahul in the national papers I read. Kharge was chosen president of the Congress because neither Rahul nor Sonia would take the job.

Compare the unwilling Rahul with the man who will be his opponent in the general elections, Narendra Modi. He is the undoubted leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party. What he says goes. He faces no challenge within his party, and the results of the last elections show how popular he is among the people of North India at least. A lot has been written and said about the Congress’s sole victory in Telangana, indicating a North/South divide. I would wait for the BJP to make a concerted effort to establish itself in that state before reaching any long-term conclusions about it.

There seems no doubt that it was the BJP’s organisational ability to capitalise on the Prime Minister’s popularity that won the day in the North, their ability to spread the news of the gifts he has given and the promise of the gifts he has said would come.

The party maintains that as many as 42,000 WhatsApp groups were formed by workers at the booth level in Madhya Pradesh alone. Bharatiya Janata Party workers also maintain that booth committees were formed in 96% of the state’s booths. As far back as June, the Prime Minister himself presided over a meeting of workers from all districts to draw up strategies for the polls. More than 600 such rallies were held in Madhya Pradesh. The state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, attended 164 of them. There may be questions about those figures but there can be no doubt that the BJP mounted a massive effort to win in Madhya Pradesh.

So must we now assume that the popular Modi, backed by Amit Shah’s organisation, will carry Narendra Modi to the Prime Minister’s chair for the third time next year? One of the newspapers covering the results warned that no economist had foretold the depression of the 1930s. Dependent as we are on forecasts, this is a warning to optimists forecasting the 2024 election results. The results this time show that the Congress party is not a pushover. The elections were not a sweep. But the Congress has now decided to admit it can’t go alone any longer. They are now struggling to ally to build on their base.

For their alliance to get off the ground, the Congress will have to be humble, not a quality it’s renowned for. They must finalise the formation of the alliance quickly, draw up sellable policies, and a programme to match the BJP’s.

Hardest of all, they must choose a leader who is not a Gandhi. Fudging that issue by saying it will be decided when the election is over will be disastrous. All this has to happen within six months. It’s very hard to see that happening and the early reaction of smaller members of the INDIA bloc to these last election results is not encouraging.

The views expressed are personal

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!

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