It’s time the Congress Party looks beyond Rahul Gandhi

   The Congress Party has just suffered its worst defeat. Winning only 44 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats compared to the 206 they won, back in 2009, the Congress should be ashamed of their performance and devote some time to introspecting reasons for their defeat. 

    There are several issues which might have resulted in this vanquishment. One might be the horrible performance of the Congress-led UPA 2 which was riddled with issues of scams, inflation and poor foreign policy. The other, and more prominent reason, is that the Congress could not match up to the Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) campaign strategy. The BJP campaign, led by Narendra Modi, revolutionized election campaigning in India. From holding live speeches to broadcasting holograms in remote parts of India, Modi did a fantastic job of making his presence known. Modi’s team made good use of the cyber space too. From sending eloquent spokespersons on all news channels to having a twitter handle in 20+ languages, Modi made sure that the public’s attention was focussed solely on the BJP.

    Now, to contrast this with the Congress, the Congress put former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi’s son, Indira Gandhi’s grandson and Jawahalal Nehru’s great grandson, Rahul Gandhi in charge of leading the campaign. It infuriated many Congress supporters, like myself that the Gandhi family was treating the party like a private company and only perpetuating their family members as key leaders, when their capability is questionable. Rahul Gandhi made his debut in politics in 2009. Most of India, labelled him as a future prime minister and was curious about every step he took. However, Rahul’s first term in office was a bummer. He had an attendance of 43% in the house which was 33% below the average. In 5 years he has participated in only 2 debates in parliament and asked a total of zero questions, compared to the national average of each Member of Parliament asking 300 questions. Yet, by virtue of his family, Rahul was promulgated as the head of the campaign.

     Rahul, was already at a disadvantage. His rival, Modi was a three – term Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Modi, known to be a workaholic had the reputation of being a leader who got things done efficiently. So, Rahul had to try and compete with Modi on different grounds. Probably via social media and the cyberspace?

      Yet, Rahul Gandhi till date has not created a twitter handle nor an official Facebook page, while Modi has over 16 million Facebook followers. Many people feel that this was a key reason why Rahul lost out. Every move of Modi went up in the social media. With majority of the middle class having access to the internet in India, all Modi’s tweets and posts were being shared and recirculated. Since following Modi on Facebook, there has not been a time, when I have logged on to my home page and not seen a Modi related post. The only Rahul Gandhi related posts that I would ever see, were just jokes and memes mocking him. 

   The Congress also failed to analyze a new trend in India which was to move away from the lines of caste and religion. On every news channel debate, while the BJP spokespersons were debating on issues of development and growth, the Congress party only brought up the issue of the BJP’s communal history of being linked to the Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Whenever a BJP spokesperson spoke about Modi’s governance model for Gujarat vis a vis development, the Congress would rebut it by talking about communal riots in 2002 which occurred during Modi’s tenure. Rather than critiquing Modi’s policies, all the Congress said was that they stood for secularism, while the BJP supposedly didn’t. Through these debates, the public became very aware of the BJP’s vision of development, but all they knew about the Congress was that it stood for secularism. The public was left clueless about the Congress Party’s vision for the future. The Congress, therefore lost out critically again. 

     However, in January 2014, Rahul Gandhi had a perfect platform to share his vision on an interview with one of India’s most popular journalists, Arnab Goswami. He, however, single handedly ruined his chances of being considered as a choice by the educated class of India. In an interview lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes, Rahul only spoke about his agenda to empower women and praise for his party to get the Right to Information Act implemented. Every question that was being asked to Rahul, had been answered with the same line, “We want to empower women, we have brought in the RTI.” This made most people think that Rahul either was not intelligent enough to understand the questions being asked to him or that the Congress party just did not have a vision for Rahul to market. However, to protect Rahul, the Congress party’s official stance on the interview, was that they were “inspired” by Rahul’s “courageous and revolutionary interview.” Well, the interview was definitely a  “courageous” move to display Rahul’s intelligence.

   Rahul, had another chance to make his stand clear. This was when he publicly tore up an ordinance allowing convicted parliamentarians to continue in their office. Many Congress supporters thought that Rahul would lead the way to tackle corruption in the government. But, within a few months of that attention seeking stunt, he was seen sharing the stage with a scam tainted minister, Ashok Chavan, endorsing him. He was also considering forging alliances with Lalu Yadav, who was found guilty of corruption. This credibility gap diluted the public’s trust in Rahul. 

    Most Indians are quite familiar with these points, which might make some question, why I have written a blog on this. The reason for me posting this blog, is that despite all of this, the Congress party is shielding Rahul Gandhi. On May 16, Rahul accepted responsibility for the loss, and offered to resign, but the core leadership of the party prevented him from doing so. It was all just drama to give a facade to the public that the Congress actually had a system of accountability. Till today, senior Congress leaders feel that Rahul is the future of the party. It infuriated me to see a blog written by senior Congress leader, Dr. Sanjay Jha on NDTV. com, titled, “Rahul Gandhi Is a Marathon Man, A Long Distance Runner.” The blog endorses Rahul and paints him out to be a visionary leader. What irritated me further was that Shashi Tharoor, one person who is my role model in Indian politics shared this blog. Instead of protecting the Gandhi family, intelligent party members like Shashi Tharoor, should take the lead in restructuring India’s oldest party. It makes my blood boil, that in the oldest democratic organization of India, dissent on the party’s top leadership is frowned upon by senior leaders. 

   Milind Deora, a two time Member of Parliament from South Mumbai, had some courage to challenge the top leadership in a subtle way, when he said that the top leadership did not hear his advice but, I wish that he went the extra mile to criticize the very structure and governance of the party. Other Congress leaders to need to take the stage and speak out against the Gandhi leadership. 

   The Congress party does not lack efficient politicians. It has fine leaders like Jyoti Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Nandan Nilekani and Tharoor just to name a few. It should try and be democratic within its party to allow leaders with capability to rise to the top rather than reserving the top spot just for the Gandhi family. The Congress has a diverse base, with members representing all the sections and parts of India. It boasts several educated and well abled leaders who have a much brighter vision that the one the Gandhis have. They should be given a chance. The Congress has done a lot of good work for the country, for instance, by improving the education system by taking measures like the mid day meal system. Rather than have the party’s focus on the Gandhi leadership, successful projects of the Congress should be marketed. The Congress need to shift from their thinking that the Indian electorate will vote only on the basis of family status, caste and religion. India is not what it was even a decade ago. The new electorate in India wants an able and effective government. This can be done by the Congress. 

    The Congress has a great ideology, an ideology that won India independence and an ideology that has helped India progress to the global economic power it is today. They have an ideology for decentralizing power and empowering each and every Indian. All they need to do, is implement the same ideology they have for India within their party for them to succeed.