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Head on a party platter? Is Praveen Chakravarty being made a scapegoat to absolve Rahul Gandhi?

Chakravarty was responsible for party data and would have had a say in strategy. But did he also decide on what or how to communicate? And can data really replace real party workers?

No matter how hard the Congress tries to stay away from the media, the media cannot stay away from the Congress. The same is true for op-ed hacks. The strongest among us cannot stick to the resolve of giving Rahul Gandhi a break — even in his birthday week.

So, Praveen Chakravarty, the data scientist and analytics whizz-kid, is the newsmaker of the day.

A slew of articles started appearing in different newspapers recently, all insinuating that the young, inexperienced, perhaps also politically naïve and gullible Congress president had been taken for a merry ride by his team of advisers. Chakravarty was painted as the proverbial villain of the piece. According to Praveen's detractors in the party, who apparently spoke to different journalists on condition of anonymity, 'Project Shakti' — the ambitious digital outreach programme for mobilising ground support for the Congress — came out not only as a dud but also smelt of scam.

Whisper Campaign: Numerous articles are alleging that Praveen Chakravarty may have fed Rahul Gandhi wrong data. (Photo: Twitter/@pravchak)

The allegations were that the data collected was of dubious quality — and may even have been gamed. Thus, the entire 'platform' on which the Congress fought the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was built on faulty pillars.

Irrespective of its veracity, from the nature of the 'leaks', it would be quite safe to conclude that it was an internal 'hit job' to throw Chakravarty under the bus, as the Americans say. The obvious conjecture was that this was yet another effort of family loyalists to find a scapegoat for absolving Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from responsibility of the electoral devastation. A classic instance of the "The Palace (Empire) Strikes Back", as it were.

Sure enough, Chakravarty issued a formal denial.

But a terse statement can hardly counter juicy conspiracy theories.

While accusations are flying thick and fast, it might be instructive to ask a few questions, assuming that the charges against Project Shakti indeed have some substance.

The first query ought to be how far Chakravarty's influence extended within Rahul Gandhi's election executive? Certainly, he was responsible for the data and would have had a major say in strategy. But did he also decide on what or how to communicate?

Can he rise? Amidst the charges and counter-charges over Congress' failure, can Rahul Gandhi 'relaunch'? (Photo: PTI)

Chakravarty's team may have made a huge mistake in identifying 'Rafale' as the biggest issue for the elections and advised Rahul to go after it with all cylinders firing. However, he could not have scripted Rahul Gandhi's speeches, when the Congress president reportedly had professional communication experts from across the world working with him. Was 'Chowkidar Chor Hai' Chakravarty's coinage? One doubts it.

Similarly, it was not Chakravarty alone who could have sold the 'Rafale' story to Rahul Gandhi, unless other stalwarts, like another redoubtable PC, aka P Chidambaram, did not support the line. Besides, without the Congress' formidable media management machinery working, including its own mouthpiece, the National Herald, which rather curiously said Rafale was Modi's Bofors — Rafale could never have reached the extraordinary decibel levels it did, and maintained it for months. If Rahul Gandhi's well-wishers thought he was shooting in the wrong direction, could they not speak up?

After all, Rahul always claims that he is a great 'listener'.

That brings us to another question. If there were no Project Shakti and Praveen Chakravarty, on whom or on what else could Rahul Gandhi mount a national campaign of that scale? A simple SWOT analysis would have revealed to the most amateur strategists that over the years, Congress' ground organisation was all but extinct. To revive it through a digital initiative alone was an utopian dream. Data can supplement feet on street — but not replace it. This is something Rahul Gandhi could have learnt from the BJP. But lack of hands-on experience and relying excessively on technocrats were apparently his handicaps.

Be that as it may, now that it has been established that the Congress has been sitting not on a mountain of radioactive data but a molehill of junk analytics, what should be the way forward for Rahul Gandhi or any new party president?

The answer is no rocket science.

The organisation has to be built from scratch — not virtually but with real workers in flesh and blood. But that is going to be hard work and a long haul.

Is it data that they lack? (Photo: PTI)

At this point, it looks uncertain if Rahul Gandhi is in the frame of mind to put himself through the grind — but understanding the importance of the Gandhi brand name and its adhesive properties, if he is required to hold the reins, then he should be prepared for genuine delegation and empowerment of regional leaders, encouraging true inner-party democracy. However, that might be wishful thinking, given the 'ownership' pattern of the enterprise and the nature of the present-day genetically modified (no pun intended on Modi) Congressmen.

However, should the dynasty think of the 'CEO' model — by 'appointing' a working president — he or she will not have enough skin in the game or authority to mobilise the entire organisation nationally or even a major state like Uttar Pradesh that will be going for elections in 2021. To expect a proxy president to carry out such radical transformation, only to prepare the ground and keep the seat warm for another family member to take over, would be wishful thinking.

No amount of tinkering or half-baked solutions is going to work. At the same time, unless there is a groundswell, the Gandhis are unlikely to genuinely surrender power and make way for a democratic election of party office-bearers (CWC), who will in turn elect a president by popular vote.

Under the circumstances, we have to bide time for yet another 'coming of age' and 'relaunch' of Rahul Gandhi.

So, till then, we can wish him a very Happy 49th Birthday tomorrow (June 19).

Also read: The Shah of India: The challenges, and the comparisons, that now face Amit Shah

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