The ides of May have brought low India’s pre-eminent dynasty. But will the line of Caesar continue long enough in politics to bring the Congress party deliverance from damnation? India has decisively rejected the Congress, an outfit owned and controlled by the Gandhis since 1998. If in 2004, the dynasty re-asserted its appeal by dethroning the NDA government led by the hugely popular Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2014 Hurricane Modi mauled it beyond recognition. Success has many fathers, but failure is always an orphan, shunted around in the hope of finding a convenient lap—an exercise happening currently in the 125-year-old Congress. Patrons of the Manmohan Singh government are holding mother and son responsible for the party’s abysmal rout, choosing to forget that it was India’s weakest ever Prime Minister who customised a grave for the Congress by leading an indecisive and tainted administration. Manmohan will go down in history as the unreturnable prodigal who hobbled his political materfamilias, who had elevated him from a mere Babu to the CEO of a 1.2-billion strong nation.
The knives are out for Rahul. Predictably, most of the Gandhi loyalists have come forward in his defence. But now, apart from accepting responsibility, Rahul also has to ensure accountability not only for his performance but of others as well. He has been in politics for a decade and in office for the past three years. The storm of 2014 has made it abundantly clear that the Gandhi name is no longer the password for a successful entry into the corridors of power. Both Rahul and Sonia are experiencing the phase of diminishing returns. The Congress has been a meal ticket party and if the Gandhis are unable to deliver, it will only shrink further. Rahul can’t get away with excuses such as he hasn’t been allowed absolute freedom to jettison deadwood in the party. Even his admirers feel that if he has to reclaim acceptability, he must take complete charge or get discharged. Since age is on his side, he can take chances an older leader can’t even think of doing. Congressmen expect Rahul to shed the image of a shoot-and-scoot politician who appears on stage and vanishes after delivering random punches. Now he has enough time to reinvent not just himself but also create a new Congress, which can fight as an effective opposition. His mother brought the Congress to power by compromising with regional satraps. His challenge is to get rid of most of them. Like fair-weather birds, most of the Gandhi Parivar’s former and current allies have started dumping it. Rahul started the Revive Congress Operation from UP five years ago and was credited with sweeping 22 Lok Sabha seats. But he failed miserably in the state Assembly elections both in UP and Bihar later. His real test now lies in his ability to ensure that the national status of the Congress remains. Though it rules in over a dozen states, it represents less than 15 per cent of the Indian population and 25 per cent of the total seats. Barring Karnataka, the Congress does not run any large state. Its base started shrinking first in late 1979 when it lost political space to Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu. After that, it started losing out in West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, UP, and also the smaller states. If Verdict 2014 is repeated during the state elections in Maharashtra, the party may not be able to earn the status of the leader of the opposition ever. For Rahul, the task is cut out. He faces the major challenge of replacing the reigning fossils of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Earlier, frontal organisations like the Mahila Congress, Youth Congress, labour and students’ outfits were major founts of strength for the Congress revival. Under Rahul’s leadership, neither did any of these grow nor did they make any impact on the election outcome. A study of over 300 Congress office-bearers of the AICC and PCCs reveals that over 70 per cent are either from various political clans or have never fought an election. The wrong people have captured the positions of power in the party. Rahul’s survival is tenuously linked with the aptitude to hone his communicative skills, the ability to define his vision, the authority to dump the derelicts and hardly working sycophants and promote the hard-working. His inglorious political past will only be forgotten if he can draw a roadmap along with his sister for a sunlit future of the Congress.
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