What does Rahul Gandhi want? Even Congress does not know
He jumps from cause to cause and then vanishes after a stray sound-bite.
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The BJP calls him god's gift to Narendra Modi. Mayawati turned down an Uttar Pradesh alliance offer with utter contempt. Yes, it's Rahul Gandhi, the heir to the oldest political party in the country who is permanently absent.
Rahul returned from his extended overseas vacation last night and is all set to go off to China with Congress's Uttar Pradesh in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad for a week.
Yes, as his party battles in vital state elections which will be existential for them and are barely five weeks away, Rahul clearly could not care.
While the Congress reels under a truly awful campaign in UP and - if it goes to battle sans an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav - might get reduced to single-digit strength in the state, Rahul is yet to take a call on tickets or allies.
Congress leaders have even stopped wondering if he is going to take a decision at all, so diminished are their hopes.
Consider the following:
1) The "ideology agnostic" strategist with the Midas touch Prashant Kishor was hired with much fanfare. His advent was looked at with huge suspicion by the top leadership of the Congress. The dispirited cadre in UP could not have cared less.
2) The strategist could not really re-invent or do the umpteenth re-launch of brand Rahul Gandhi so he became the story, rather than the party or its leader. Incredibly more press was drawn by "PK" then "RG". This did not happen in the case of his earlier campaigns for Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar.
3) All the ideas mooted by Kishor, such as Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi being the CM face in UP, were turned down by the horrified Congress and assorted members of the Gandhi durbar. Stories kept being planted as how Priyanka would enter the fray and save the party. A trusting media enthralled by Kishor bought the news.
Finally, septuagenarian Sheila Dikshit was reluctantly pressed into service. Incredibly, while making her the CM face, Rahul did not once mention her in his public meetings. Nor did her face figure in the posters. Dikshit and Rahul did not even address public meetings together.Septuagenarian Sheila Dikshit was reluctantly pressed into service to be Congress's CM face in UP.
PK's "moves" of meeting Congress bête-noire Amar Singh to stitch up an alliance with the SP put the entire leadership back up. State chief Raj Babbar called him a "sound recordist" and was banished from UP for his transgressions.
But wait. In more examples of woolly-headed decision-making, Rahul has now given him another assignment - Uttarakhand.
Confused? Don't be. It's worse for Congress leaders bearing the brunt of the mystery process that is Rahul's decision-making. Says a very senior party leader: "Look at our General. He has left the battlefield weeks before we fight for our existence as a political party. We carried out a huge campaign against notebandi, yet by this vacation he's shot himself in the foot again. Rahul had appeared to be serious about this issue and we were all relieved. Now Modi is controlling the narrative and re-casting himself as Robin Hood."
The fact is that the Congress's campaign in UP is in utter shambles yet inexplicably, despite their mutual admiration society, Rahul is yet to sign on the dotted line for an alliance with Yadav junior.
As is Rahul's normal practice, the party is in the dark and clueless about what he wants.
Even poor Dikshit has been reduced to saying that Akhilesh would be a better CM face than her. Rahul is elusive and inaccessible to all party leaders. This is unlike his mother Sonia Gandhi who knew exactly what was going on in the party but who, in the hope of convincing her reluctant heir, is taking the backseat.
Unfortunately, Congress leaders see it as leadership withering away and no one takes Rahul seriously as he jumps from cause to cause and then vanishes after a stray sound-bite.
Take the case of Punjab, which is the only state where the Congress has a real chance of winning. Amarinder Singh has not yet been declared the official CM face by Rahul who is not comfortable with him.
Singh is fretting while a gleeful Arvind Kejriwal mocks him, saying that Navjot Sidhu is the real CM face.
An elusive Sidhu is yet to make his intent known. Meanwhile, Singh released the Congress manifesto in Delhi and not Punjab, in the vain hope that Rahul would make an appearance and officially anoint him.
The Sidhu factor is bogging the Punjab campaign down as he keeps changing his mind and dates. Says a member of the Amarinder camp bitterly: "Sidhu is treating the Congress like his shoots for the laughter challenge."
So, as the once vibrant party resembles a zombie and fast becomes irrelevant, Rahul seems set to preside over the earthquake that will be unleashed when the results of the elections are declared. The chorus of dissatisfied voices is rising and will hit a crescendo. Rahul cannot duck responsibility this time as all decisions or the lack of them will be his responsibility.
Unlike the earthquake he promised when he said he would reveal details of Modi's corruption.
Brace yourself; this time around the recriminations in the Congress will be loud and prolonged.