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Congress Needs To Engage Politically, Not Theatrically

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By Sidharth Mishra

Last week Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attended a “Saanjhi Virasat Bachao” meet convened by almost ousted Janata Dal (United) leader SharadYadav. At the meet, if one were to believe Rahul acolytes, their leader came out with flying colours matching NarendraModi, “word-for-word”. Rahul Gandhi famously said, for that brief moment of glory, “Modiji says he wants to create a ‘Swachch Bharat’ but we want a ‘Sach Bharat’.”Now does Mr Gandhi’s presence at the said convention of “16 political parties”, most of them having innocuous role in country’s politics, add to the discomfort of his rivals? Gandhi, who urgently needs to save “Congress Ki Virasat”, with his style of theatrical politics rather adds to the comfort of his rivals.

The public display of frustration among the Congress leaders keeps coming to the surface with them “unfollowing” their leader and the party on the social media network. In some cases they return “to follow” and in some cases they never return.

Rahul Gandhi’s politics is oriented just towards catching attention of television cameras and nothing beyond. He must realise that the role he has to play is that of a public leader and not a television personality. A public leader must have a vision which is targeted at a much larger following than merely a television audience.

During his farewell speech in LokSabha during last Budget session, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi had made a very pertinent political observation. He had said that he was a year older than his predecessor

AkhileshYadav and a year younger to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. In making this observation, he underlined the fact that their (the UP CM and his predecessor’s) political maturity was not subservient to their age and that they were the masters of their move.

This was a telling remark on Rahul Gandhi’s lack of leadership qualities, and own up the decisions of the party or seen in the public leading from the front in hours of crisis. The party has fought two recent successful political battles in Punjab assembly polls and Gujarat RajyaSabha polls, and both in the near absence of the Gandhi scion.

It’s an evidence of the state of politics that from the JD(U) benches, the charismatic Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is rubbing shoulders with Prime Minister NarendraModi whereas the weather-worn, long chaperoned SharadYadav is sharing dais with Gandhi.In the past three years, the discomfort for the ruling establishment from the Congress camp came only during the biennial polls to RajyaSabha from Gujarat.

What ensued in Gujarat was a pitched political combat, where Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel fought a battle of lifetime to first keep the flock together, then engineer a great escape and finally make a triumphant return. Showcasing his leadership skills Patel showed to his boss’s son how political battles are fought when the chips are actually down.

The battles are fought by supervising political campaigns hand on and not merely parroting scripts handed over by speech writers, as his wont is. Rahul Gandhi’s “khoonkidalali” (bartering soldiers’ blood) comment on the surgical strike by the Army in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, his competitive bad-mouthing of NarendraModi with Delhi chief minister ArvindKejriwal on the suicide committed by an ex-serviceman, and though on a lesser pitch, the brouhaha over the gunning down of the eight SIMI militants in Madhya Pradesh have only gone to erode his credibility as a serious politician.

It’s an unfortunate state for the country where the principal Opposition is unable to rise to the challenge of articulating a well-argued position against the government; one-liners like ‘Sach Bharat’ are of not much consequence. Congress has to identify issues for long-drawn battles instead of resorting to the politics of shoot-and-scoot, which is patented by the AAP and suits their repertoire best.

In the past, in his rush to stand alongside fringe groups on the JNU campus, and now with SharadYadav on a SitaramYechuri-propelled front, Rahul Gandhi is unnecessarily dragging the Congress to the Left. He should realise that there must have been a good reason for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to maintain a safe distance from the whole JNU controversy. In fact, the scholarly address by Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose on nationalism debate in LokSabha last year, alongside BijuJanata Dal’s TathagataSathapathy, underlined that in the battle between the Left and Right they could play the arbitrator.

The Congress, thanks to Rahul Gandhi's political cameos, has come out looking firmly with the (ultra) Left and more dangerously anti-Hindu. This is bad as this could mean ceding the nationalist space completely to the BJP. And this suits politics of people like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who took refuge in the birth of Lord Krishna to ward off the heat created by the death of children in a Gorakhpur hospital.

The challenge for the Congress party is to put the government on the mat on issues of development, in asking questions about “ache din”, and not allowing them the escape route of identity politics. The Congress must realise after the defeat in 1999, the party rebuilt itself brick-by-brick. It should do the same now. There are no short-cuts as Sonia Gandhi had found out in the 1990s when Mulayam Singh Yadav refused to support her as Prime Minister.

The Congress vice-president so far has not shown that he has the stomach to wage a long and tiresome political battle with NarendraModi-led NDA. The politics of shoot and scoot, whichhe has borrowed from AamAadmi Partymakes him a poor facsimile of ArvindKejriwal, who himself is seeking course correction and has of late withdrawn from public space. Theatrics can create TRPs but TRPs are not always known to convert into political following.
 
 
(Sidharth Mishra is Editor, Capital Khabar)
 

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