June 08, 2014

AND THE LOSING CAPTAIN IS...


VETERAN KHARGE MADE THE LEADER OF THE CONGRESS

Courtesy: Post Jagran
Apart from the Modi wave that swept the country taking the saffron outfit beyond the halfway mark, the 2014 General Elections will also be remembered for decimation of India's grand old party. Never in its 126 year long history had the Congress party recorded such a dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls. While we can write a 1000 page book on why the INC failed to even win one tenth of the total seats in the Lower House of the Parliament - a pre-requisite to be termed as the 'principal opposition', a large part of the blame should fall on the (not-so)young and (un)able shoulders of the Vice President Rahul Gandhi. After all, was he not the one who led the party in a campaign which saw it record its worst ever showing and basically handed the victory to the BJP and Narendra Modi on a platter? While the junior Gandhi and his mummy Sonia did offer to resign at the recently held party convention, it was, as Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami put it, mere 'lip-service'. As the focus shifted from the election debacle to devising a strategy to resurrect the party ahead of the state polls scheduled later this year, many top guns including Digvijay Singh and Shashi Tharoor believed that it would be 'logical' for Rahul to head the 44 elected members of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. I mean, to be frank, I am pretty sure many of us would feel the same. However, it seems that the INC chief had other plans. In what is seen by some as an attempt by the party chief to shield her son from the attacks of a 'much stronger and a confident BJP' or as others feel, another occasion where Baba has refused to take 'responsibility', veteran Karnataka leader and former Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has been appointed as the leader of the Congress party in the Lower House.

From the Congress' point of view, there are 'reasons' behind the move. The official party line has been that the top priority for the MP from Amethi now is to resurrect the party. The rout in the elections has been rude shock and has completely exposed the organizational mess that the party finds itself in as of today. While anti-incumbency has played a huge part in the poll debacle, there are other areas of concern too - the lack of strong state leaders who can get the votes, the inability to stitch alliances with key regional partners and the most importantly - the lack of internal democracy. Rahul has been quite vociferous about the need to revamp the Congress in his rather limited interaction with the media over the last five years, things like internal primaries before candidate selection (a move that proved to be a complete failure in the Lok Sabha elections), increasing the representation of women, empowering the Youth Congress et all. As such, the High Command - the Congress equivalent of the Communist 'Politburo' believes that there are important issues to be settled than warming the Opposition benches. This is true especially with the elections in Maharashtra and Haryana - two INC ruled states which the BJP and its allies literally swept, just around the corner. Another cause of concern for the INC would be that Rahul does not have any experience to take up this tough job. In fact, in the last Lok Sabha, the Vice President's attendance has been mere 42 percent; you see if Baba was a BE student, he would not have been able to answer the semester exams. With reports indicating that Rahul himself was not too keen to take up the job, the names doing the rounds were that of former Union ministers - Kamal Nath and Veerappa Moily. However, the appointment of Kharge as the head of the Congress parliamentary board did come in as a surprise.

While the Congress leaders may go to great lengths defending this decision, it is easy to see what why this is another mistake that the INC has done in the last few months. One of the reasons that Modi held the upper hand over Rahul during the course of the elections was that while the former had served and delivered as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the latter was seen as a 'reluctant politician who never took any post'. In the decade that the UPA was in power, the Amethi MP was never a part of the government, he did not speak on subjects like corruption and women's safety when they shook the conscience of the nation or never articulated his views on important issues either in the Parliament or in the media. Of course, loyalists would spring to his defence; they will recall that 'infamous' news conference where the younger Gandhi literally forced the government to scrap that Ordinance to protect convicted MPs, a decision which was taken earlier in an all-party meeting headed by the Prime Minister (Link) or his fiery speech in the Talkatora stadium after his anointment as the chief of his party's election campaign where he vetoed the UPA regime to increase the cap on subsidized LPG cylinders for domestic use from 9 to 12. However, such 'symbolic' gestures are definitely not enough. That disastrous interview to Arnab where he talked only about RTI and women's empowerment was for many, one of the key turning points of the 2014 General Elections. For a voter like me, it was proof that Rahul had still a long way to go before he could even be 'considered', yes you read it right, 'considered' to be the PM of the world's largest democracy. As the head of the Congress, the 43 year old would have got crucial first hand experience that would come in handy in the future. The post would be an ideal platform for him to understand politics better, build a rapport with leaders across party lines and most importantly, help him in placing his point of view before the masses. As a matter of fact, several ex-Prime Ministers including Vajpayee, Narasimha Rao and even Rajeev Gandhi had served as the Leader of the Opposition and there is no reason as to why the junior Gandhi should not have done the same.

It makes sense for us to sit back and ponder as to what kind of message has the Congress sent to both, its workers and the people of the country by taking this decision. Lets suppose, the UPA had done the impossible, what I mean to say is the hypothetical situation wherein the UPA would have come to power for a third consecutive term. There was no question whatsoever as to who would become the PM of the country. The standard party line would be that since Rahul led the party's campaign, it would be 'natural' for him to take up the top job too. Now that the outfit has done miserably and considering the same argument, it is logical that Rahul should lead his party men in the Parliament as they shift from the treasury to the opposition benches. A good captain never abandons his ship, rather prefers going down with it. By refusing to head the Congress now, the Amethi MP has in some way, refused to own his share of responsibility. The effect that this move can potentially have on the cadre could be deadly. I mean who would like to work for an organization where the management takes the credit for all success but refuses to acknowledge its role in defeat. Certainly not me. I believe that thousands of Congress workers who worked for the party during the polls would be shattered by this development. Of course, there are many who still swear by the first family, the ones who feel they can do no wrong. However, the India of 2014 is certainly not the India of the 1970s and Rahul does not have the charisma that say, his grand mother had. While he may come across as a 'nice guy', there is no doubt that the move has not gone well with a lot of people. At a time when questions are being raised about his style of leadership, the least that he could have done is head the Congress legislative party at least for the time being and then take up some tough decisions to rejuvenate the party. May be, a few months down the line, he could have actually moved out.

Lastly, the move to appoint Kharge shows that the INC has certainly not learnt its lessons. With the likes of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the Parliament, will the Gulbarga MP be able to take decisions on his own? Come on. Manmohan Singh served as the PM for two consecutive terms but it is an 'open secret' that it was the UPA chairperson who called the shots during UPA I. In UPA II, the situation 'deteriorated' further with Rahul embarrassing the government on numerous occasions. In fact, it was evident that there was a certain amount of friction between the PM and the Congress VP and both were not on the same wavelength on several issues. Rahul did not even attend the farewell dinner for the outgoing PM hosted by his mother just a few days before the results were announced. Kharge's appointment has given scope for a similar situation to arise in the future. With Sonia Gandhi not keeping well, there could potentially be two power centers in the party in the Lok Sabha. While the former Union minister will take on the Modi government in the Parliament, Rahul will still command respect. After all, in the INC your abilities do not matter, as long as you belong to the Nehru-Gandhi parivar. As such, you should not be surprised if the two have serious differences of opinion on several matters. Besides, the decision has given ammunition to a stronger, more vibrant BJP to take pot shots at its nemesis. But by refusing to head the Congress party rightly, Rahul has certainly missed the first opportunity to set the things right in his party and may have contributed in weakening it further.

IMAGES

(1) Courtesy: Post Jagran
Source: Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge open to become Karnataka CM (Link)