This is the season, when is it not, to offer advice to Rahul Gandhi about how to run his family party. Not that he needs any. He has many advisers and maybe that's where the problem is. He clearly hasn't been reading the content created to save the Congress party from oblivion and he certainly won't be taking this seriously like I do not take seriously any hot or cold take exhorting the Gandhi family to step away and allow the Congress party to find its own way and leader. The truth is that there is no Congress party without the Gandhis and let us get over the nonsense of new leadership. Remove the Gandhi family and you have no party. For better or worse, the ship of non-family leadership has sailed for India’s premier opposition party. They have become owners of the enterprise and owners can appoint CEOs to run a company, but a CEO's legitimacy and power come from the owner. Dissolving an ailing entity is an option not available until a viable alternative emerges on the horizon. So somebody has to steer the ship out of the morass.
Rahul Gandhi has to become party president instead of just exercising power without accountability. (Photo: Reuters)
To begin with, Rahul Gandhi has to become party president instead of just exercising power without accountability. I wrote a 3-part series on why Mr Gandhi needs to review Congress's top decision-making body and strategy. He needs a story because his backstory is not at all inspiring. Modi has a story that spans from the Vadnagar railway station tea stall to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. Rahul's story from one Lutyen's bungalow to the other is a matter of metres. He has had opportunities to write his own but all missed because his advisers believe a byte from the lawns or a video interview would do.
Rahul Gandhi has, of late, taken to short, slick videos to communicate to the youth. The videos, in themselves, are really bad. He seems to be answering questions from someone but we don’t know who. In these over-produced videos, he is projected as an academic intellectual old-ened enough to look like one. But that’s a small issue. The bigger issue is that he is barking up the wrong tree. He is going after the China debacle. By doing that he is repeating his Rafale folly. The Rafale rhetoric cost him an election and party leadership. He says he would continue to repeat this even if his political career goes to hell. Which career? The Wayanad MP one?
The China threat is external and it’s not Modi’s land that Beijing is slicing up. This is an issue where the average citizen expects all parties to stay united and speak in one voice. Of course, there are monumental failures that we need to talk about. The BJP propaganda machinery worked overtime to prove that Rahul Gandhi had secret links with China. To counter that, his advisers ended up putting him under the spotlight with these China explainers.
These geniuses janeu’d him up for a Hindu Hriday Samrat role in the last elections, made to believe that Hindutva is all that the majority co-religionists care about, convinced that the common Indian cared more about cows than cow-related violence. The truth is the common Hindu also cares about peace and amity in the society, no matter what the new narrative tells you. The Congress party has since abandoned secularism as if it’s a dirty word because many eminent advisers told the leadership that it would be playing in the BJP’s hands if it is seen raking up secularism as the fundamental value of our democracy. The common wisdom is if Congress spoke for a certain section of society, it will not be setting the narrative but only cementing that of BJP. These political steps made the Congress party look more dishonest than it is.
We are in the middle of a pandemic that has been mishandled into a mess. Playing politics during a pandemic seems petty. When the people in power are naturally held as villains of the piece, the adversity looks for a hero. In this case, as author Arnab Ray put it, Sonu Sood. Because Rahul Gandhi was morose and out of touch, sulking in a corner he put himself in. As a result of the government’s sudden lockdown, millions of migrant poor were walking on the highways. This is the moment that Congress needed to capture but it stuck to Twitter, the playing field of the minuscule educated elite. Under immense pressure, Rahul Gandhi agreed for a couple of photo-ops. Priyanka Gandhi saw Sonu Sood helping people reach home and asked Rajasthan Congress to send buses to the UP border. All this while sitting in her Lodi Estate bungalow. Rahul Gandhi stayed aloof.
Sonu Sood kept at it. He put together resources, he created a call centre, began hiring buses, arranging passes, leasing aircraft, and we had a hero. Sonu Sood continues to arrange help for people affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns. Just yesterday, he gifted a tractor to two sisters in Andhra Pradesh who ploughed their field without any implement. Rahul Gandhi posted another video about China.
He has to be ploughing the field and dirty his hands while doing it. He still has four years to face the people who will judge him on the basis of how he fought for them. This is that opportunity to create a story. China, Rafale, and even crony-capitalism are not people’s issues. Food on the plate, jobs, habitat, and social harmony are on their minds. The economic reversal caused by the pandemic has a far-reaching and long-lasting impact. If Rahul Gandhi wants to, he can be a part of the healing and make his empathy the rallying point for Congress workers. Or Sonu Sood founds a political party.