Rahul Gandhi quits: But the Congress' drama still carries on. Will it get real or more surreal?

By resigning, Rahul has ended a painful version of 'Dynasty' for his party. But can the Congress now cut out the dialogues and get to real work?

 |  5-minute read |   04-07-2019
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All soap operas must lead, inexorably, towards a finale.

Judging by the categorical tone of Rahul Gandhi’s resignation letter, we are into the last episode of this peculiarly Indian version of Dynasty. The Congress will have to accept that it cannot go into the next season with this cast — especially when the lead actor has walked out. 

main_raul-gandhi-sad_070319095315.jpgIt might be curtains for him, but for the Congress, the saga continues. (Source: Tamil Nadu Congress Committee)

No soap opera has ever advanced the course of civilization or culture — and this one certainly has done nothing for the Congress party.

If this is how the saga was going to end, then the party should have accepted Rahul’s resignation at once, let him leave gracefully, and set about organising elections for new office bearers (including the President) and a new working committee. Instead, we have had the unedifying spectacle of senior leaders rushing to Delhi to plead with a reluctant prince to reconsider. No real political activity has been possible during this phase. Congress governments in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have begun to look even shakier and Delhi resounds with rumours of Congressmen plotting to cross over to the BJP to escape from this atmosphere of paralysis and uncertainty.

Say this for Rahul — he did the honorable thing. Given the magnitude of the defeat and the personal, almost vitriolic, campaign he had masterminded against Narendra Modi, it was only fitting that he should want to step down when the people of India rejected his positions and voted overwhelmingly for Modi.

pti690_070319085834.jpgRaGa vs Modi: Yes, it actually did get personal. (Source: PTI

Rahul is justified in suggesting, as he does in his resignation letter, that this election marks the end of an idea of India, one that has always been used to hold this diverse country together. And he has every right to keep fighting for the values he believes in — but not at the head of a party he has just led to defeat. When you go head to head with a man who believes in the very opposite of nearly everything you stand for and the other guy wins, then there really is no point remaining in the ring. It is time to withdraw and let somebody else put on the gloves.

None of this is to say that Rahul Gandhi ran a bad campaign — he worked hard and sincerely, facing down the might of the greatest election-winning machine in Indian history.

The problem was that he had the wrong message.

India did not want to hear about corruption allegations, about the power of love, or about Nyay — which nobody actually understood. The voters wanted a message of strengthened national security, of Hindu pride, and of the end of the old order. Rahul either did not sense the public mood or was fed wrong information. Till the very end, Congress leaders genuinely believed that the BJP was losing and that an Opposition coalition would emerge. Their own polling yielded figures that were at such variance with the final results that many Congressmen wanted to complain about rigging. But as none of them could demonstrate how all the exit polls and the EVMs had been rigged, the idea was dropped.

When you hit the campaign trail, give it your all and do not realise that the people are rejecting your message, then it is time to step aside and allow someone with a better sense of the public mood to take the job.

Who will that someone be? It will probably be an elderly Congressman who will stick around as a night watchman till a new leader emerges. The problem with finding a new leader is that Rahul’s first eleven consists largely of dynasts. And as the results show, north Indian voters are turning against dynasty. (This is not necessarily true of the rest of India — Jagan Reddy, Stalin and Naveen Patnaik, all did very well.)

ptiii690_070319085717.jpgIf not him, then who? The Congress is seen as a party of dynasts. Who will appeal to new India? (Source: PTI)

The Congress can now go in one of three directions.

The first option, favoured by many Congressmen, is for some titular figure to hold office while the real power remains with the Gandhis.

This won’t work.

Sonia Gandhi has more or less withdrawn from the hurly-burly of daily politics, Rahul has resigned, Priyanka is untested. Besides, puppets have a way of asserting themselves: remember Narasimha Rao?

That leaves the Congress with one of two choices. It can accept that this is a new India and choose new leadership and new policies that appeal to this India. Or it can take a gamble and hope that after five more years of Modi, a sluggish economy and anti-incumbency will change the public mood. In that environment, the original ideals of the Congress may find a new resonance. It is not an easy choice to make. Whatever path the party selects, the decision is essentially a gamble.

But only one thing is clear — Rahul wants to go. The party should let him. And it should find new leadership.

This drama has gone on for far too long.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi quits: But the Congress still has a future with hope in it. It's up to the party to unearth that 

Writer

Vir Sanghvi Vir Sanghvi @virsanghvi

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist, and talk show host.

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