At the time of writing this, news reports suggest Rahul Gandhi has submitted his resignation to the Congress Working Committee, which wants to reject it. Many feel this is an oft-repeated, stretched out drama to make Rahul look good and something that will result in no change.
Yes, such dramas have occurred in the Congress in the past. Only this time, it is different. This time any way you look at it — morally, practically or strategically — Rahul needs to go. Leaving the top post is not to humiliate Rahul. If at all, Rahul leaving the post with grace can actually increase public respect for him and Congress. It may also leave a chance for Rahul to return if the stars align for him again. Rahul leaving isn’t punishment, it is strategy.
But the moment you suggest this big change, you have to deal with the massive army of Rahul apologists and Congress strategists. Rahul apologists believe Rahul isn’t bad at all. In fact, to them he is amazing every time he sends a viral tweet. They also believe Rahul has improved “a lot” every time the Congress wins a state election. Rahul apologists also say Modi only won because the BJP is manipulative and evil, while the Indian voter is gullible and bigoted. These apologists perhaps swarm around Rahul and his mother, making them believe this nonsense.
Someone really, really needed to have shown the Congress a mirror. In fact, people have tried for ages, but to no avail. And yet, anyone suggesting replacing Rahul is seen as jealous, biased, motivated or simply mean. However, people trying to break their heads to beg the Congress to change may not be any of that. Maybe they really do care about having two strong political parties in competition. This way we can have a healthy democracy, a strong party in power and an almost equally strong opposition. The Congress’s insistence on Rahul’s presence has damaged all that.
I don’t want to be mean, but here is a recent example of Rahulism. At his presser to congratulate PM Modi on his victory, these were some of his words: “Chahe kuch bhi ho jaaye… main sirf vaapis pyaar se jawaab doonga (whatever happens, I will only respond with love)…”
This theme of ‘let there be love’ was used by Rahul throughout the election. While it is nice to spread love like the Beatles or Bob Marley, one needs to realise you are fighting an election here. This is a battle. Rahul isn’t working for ISKCON, Art of Living or the Isha Foundation. This is just one example where there seems to be an idea Rahul fell in love with and went ahead with, without realising it was coming across as incoherent. Rahul’s message, speeches, confidence and overall impact left so much to be desired, one wonders how he didn’t realise it or why his inner circle never brought it to his attention.
Again, the aim of the above is not to rub in the flaws or make fun of anyone. It is simply to illustrate that whatever is being done hasn’t worked, isn’t working and is unlikely to work.
The PM face has a massive impact on the Lok Sabha voter. The BJP changed it after LK Advani lost two elections, and we all saw what happened. As a more recent example, Congress won major state elections, where the PM face was not at stake. A few months later, it lost the national elections in the same states. Is that not proof enough of the single biggest change the Congress needs to make?
We are talking about a new person who leads the party. Someone who can inspire India, has a compelling message and will be trusted. Typically, if the organisation were designed as a meritocracy, this person would be in plain sight. Congress wasn’t and, hence, yes, it will be extremely painful for it to change its leader and wean off the Gandhi family. However, it isn’t impossible. And this is where the Congress strategists who argue that there is no Congress without the Gandhi family get it completely wrong. This is 2019, not 1999. The new generation has not seen a Gandhi family member hold the top post for the last 27 years. There is a massive political void in India, the space for a solid, strong Opposition. Congress could take that place if it changes itself according to the will of the people, which is what it exists for anyway, there is no reason why it can’t.
Comparing replacing Rahul to the past Sitaram Kesri situation is silly. The new face we are talking about here will be far more inspiring, and will be brought for a reason and with the right qualities. Sitaram Kesri was a default rather than a strategically thought through option.
The Gandhi family’s hold on the party does mean one thing: the modus operandi of Rahul’s departure, his handover of power, the anointment and even his involvement post departure should all be carefully handled.
However, while the execution of the change can be discussed, the direction of that change is screamingly obvious. The message the Indian people have given the Congress is clear. It is time to change, and change has to happen at the top.