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Crucifying Rahul Gandhi: Why the fate of the Congress vice president is a symptom, not the disease

If you have heard the chorus of voices baying for the blood of Rahul Gandhi’s core team since the 16th of May (and I will be surprised if you haven’t) you would imagine he is on the payroll of his counselors; that they have been keeping him in confinement forcibly and brainwashing him over the years. None of these critiques explain who these advisers are, what their antecedents are, what role they play, exactly, in the party vice president’s office and why they are suddenly the root of all evil. In fact, until Milind Deora and Jyotiaditya Scindia joined this chorus of voices, one might have been excused for thinking they were a part of Gandhi’s team of advisers.

That the Congress party is in dire need of introspection and reform goes without saying. And while it is generous of social media and mainstream media to offer to introspect for them, that is hardly the solution.

When Rahul Gandhi took over as the leader of the Congress’s nationwide campaign the party and the UPA II government were already in abject disarray. No reasonable person could have believed they were headed for anything but a disaster in the upcoming polls. Sure, the extent of the rout has come as a surprise but the reasons for it are very, very complex and the need of the hour is that the party members learn to trust and talk to each other without allowing the media to amplify select voices.

Morally the responsibility does lie with the Gandhis, as president and vice president of the party but blaming Rahul Gandhi for unmotivated workers at ground level, the rot in the PCCs, impasses within the coalition, corruption, cynicism and complacency in the government, failure in communication and the vicious in-fighting and scheming at all levels of the party is not about to yield dividends. Just like crediting him with the UPA’s win in 2009 did not.

One would have valued Scindia and Deora’s criticisms of Gandhi if they were just as forthcoming about the shortcomings of the ministries they were a part of- and in Deora’s case his own electoral loss. Unless ofcourse Rahul Gandhi’s advisers are also singularly responsible for him losing South Mumbai. If the resignations offered by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, unsurprisingly refused by the CWC, are not indicative of adequate introspection, nor is this slugfest.

There is no denying that Rahul Gandhi must take responsibility for more than a couple of glaring mistakes but that will only help if all other players followed suit. The din over Gandhi’s missteps is drowning out hundreds of other issues the party has to contend with internally. The spectre of him volunteering to become the country’s punching bag (I say ‘volunteering’, because he continues to remain silent, as ever, refusing to offer his side of the story) is distracting from the ugly sores that have been festering deep within the party for years- sores that history reveals they are rather prone to contracting.

In an ideal world every reward would be based on merit. In that sort of a world, dynastic politics would be anathema but in the realpolitik of the world we live in, it is hardly the worst of our curses. The Nehru-Gandhi family is the phoenix of the Congress party in the way the RSS is the phoenix of the BJP. It is central to the mythology that party workers draw their raison d´etre from. It is simplistic to suggest that they have failed to evolve their identity, to grow in girth around this core merely because the family has been unwilling to relinquish its hold. If Sonia Gandhi needed to be brought in to save the party in the late 90s; if the family is the glue keeping the party together, the fault can hardly lie solely with the Gandhis. Rahul Gandhi is as much a product of his allegedly elitist, incompetent advisers, as he is of the hundreds of workers who were clamoring for him to be declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate at the AICC meeting in January 2014.

How the party will use this symbolic phoenix in times to come is a pressing but complicated question. The crucifixion of Rahul Gandhi and his advisers is a useless idea unless it comes with a roadmap for after he is gone. The school of thought that suggests he should be replaced by his sister, Priyanka Gandhi, despite the fact that she has time and time again said she is unwilling to enter electoral politics, is too ludicrous to even merit discussion.

We in turn would do well to leave the party alone to grapple with its problems for a bit and turn our attention to our own obsession with Rahul Gandhi. On the May 16 as my Twitter feed was inundated with outrage by those one would describe as left liberals, over Gandhi’s inexplicable smile at a press conference, I could not help but think of the Saytajit Ray classic, Shatranj Ke Khiladi and the chess-playing noblemen so consumed by their favourite pastime they failed to notice their kingdom was being taken over by the opponent they dreaded the most.

(First published in DNA, May 23rd, 2014)

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