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A counter-narrative must - Deccan Herald
A counter-narrative must
By Kay Benedict, March 13, 2017
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It is no longer business as usual for Rahul Gandhi. But for the saving grace of Punjab (courtesy former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh), there would have been a revolt against Rahul's style of functioning. Congress performance in heartland Uttar Pradesh has been the worst-ever in its 132-year-old history.


Politics has become a 24x7 profession. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the national narrative even as the Congress is afflicted with an ostrich syndrome. How can a party win elections without a robust organisation, cadre or core ideology and plagued by perennial factional feuds?

Rahul Gandhi has been doing well in reactionary politics, attacking Modi in and outside Parliament earning some brownie points and media attention, but has been a flop in electoral politics. To cap it all, in-house critics charge that Rahul has been surrounded and misled by AICC "managers" who are not leaders with mass connect or sound political grounding.

In the past, winning elections was easier for the Congress, mainly due to a default factor - absence of a strong national challenger. The arrival of hard-nosed and high-octane Modi on the national scene has changed the rules of the game upstaging conventional politics. The Congress now is at a loss as to how to deal with a Modified-BJP or 'Moditva'.

The party has also apparently failed to grasp the political and perceptional shift wrought about by the demographic swing; 65% of the population being below 35 years of age, explosion of social media and the changing socio-political ecosystem. In the changed scenario, conventional poll strategy does not work.

Many seasoned Congress leaders have been saying in private that the party needs to discard its obsession with "secularism" template and find a new, all-inclusive idiom without diluting its core ideology. Despite its avowal of secularism, the Muslims have been voting for regional parties in many states and now even the Christians are trying out other parties like AAP in Goa and elsewhere.

Soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had deputed senior party leader and family loyalist A K Antony to dissect the reasons for Congress defeat and submit a report to her. In his findings, Antony, inter alia, suggested that a perception of "minority appeasement" and over stretching of "secularism" narrative had also played a role in party's dismal performance. What was left unsaid was that the Congress should peddle soft Hindutva to counter Moditva. The secular lobby in the AICC predictably trashed Antony's prescription while the soft-Hindutva group found some merits in his findings.

As regards UP, the writing has been very clear on the wall since 2012 when the Congress won a measly 28 out of 403 assembly seats in UP and in the 2014 polls secured just two Lok Sabha seats. A committee headed by Antony was set up to go into the reasons for the debacle. Yet no course correction was initiated and five years down the line, the same story has repeated with an even more pathetic ring - winning just seven out of 403 and the BJP securing six out of the 10 seats from the Gandhi family bastion of Amethi and Rae Bareili.

New UPCC chief Raj Babbar was appointed just six months before the election and a sidelined former president Rita Bahuguna Joshi quit the party to join the BJP. On the eve of elections, the party shifted its goal posts several times - from going it alone, brining election strategist Prashant Kishor, then dumping him, projecting former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as the UP CM face to woo the Brahmins, discarding her after striking an alliance with Samajwadi Party, creating a hype over Priyanka Gandhi's campaign, then the latter completely withdrawing from electioneering and Sonia Gandhi skipping campaign due to ill-health - all a sure recipe for disaster.

Factional feud

Neighbouring Uttrakhand was lost due to factional feud and bad political management. While a year ago, senior party leader and former CM Vijay Bahuguna, a Brahmin, defected to the BJP, Yashpal Arya, PCC chief and state minister, (Dalit face of the party), joined the saffron party on the eve of the polls. Both had been sidelined by an arrogant CM Harish Rawat. Here again, the high command failed to see the writing on the wall.

With each election, the Congress base has been shrinking and yet no tears were shed. Apart from UP and Uttrakhand, the Congress lost seven key states since 2014 - Maharashtra, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh. Later this year, elections are due in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and next year in Nagaland, Tripura and Congress-ruled Karnataka and Meghalaya. As of now indications are that the party is unlikely to do well in these states.

In Karnakata, sidelined former chief minister S M Krishna is set to join the BJP protesting partisan politics of incumbent CM and an indifferent high command. Former CMs of Haryana and Kerala (Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Oommen Chandy) are also sulking. Factional squabbles have been plaguing several other states too. Over the years, death of several top leaders, party's failure to create and groom new generation leaders and brain drain especially to the BJP and organisational decay have corroded the party apparatus and yet Sonia Gandhi continues to waddle in status quoism while Rahul seems to be averse to risk taking.

As Modi tightens his grip over BJP and the government, the political relevance of the Opposition and the Congress is getting shrunk. The bonanza from UP will enable the government to get majority in the Rajya Sabha next year to push all its agenda through Parliament and it will also enable the BJP/RSS to install their nominee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in July when incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee demits office. So is the case with vice president.

The only silver lining before Rahul is that AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal's national ambitions have been stymied by Punjab. An AAP victory in the border state would have propelled Kejriwal to the national scene offering a secular alternative to the Congress.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi)

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