How many times must Rahul Gandhi fail for Congress to see he's no leader?

When Smriti Irani was running roughshod over Congress V-P's flanks, he was giving sound bites outside the House.

 |  4-minute read |   26-02-2016
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For Rahul Gandhi the battle was lost before it even started. Lost because as the general leading the command he left the field. And the ground on which he decamped was that the government wouldn't let him fight because they were scared.

That's pretty much sums up the Congress vice-president's conduct over the JNU-Rohith Vemula debate in the Lok Sabha.

When the human resources minister Smriti Irani was running roughshod over Rahul Gandhi's flanks with merciless and repeated onslaughts, the Congress scion was giving sound bites outside the House.

"They are scared of what I am going to say in Parliament, so they will not let me speak."

Is this the voice of the leader of the main opposition party? Does the shadow prime minister expect to win the confidence of his party workers and the people by running away from the debate?

It merely confirms the popular notion about him: Rahul is scared to lock horns. He lacks killer's instinct. It also proves Smriti Irani's charge that Rahul too is rent-a-cause leader.

What prevented Rahul Gandhi from opening the debate? Here was an opportunity for him to lead from the front. He should have grabbed it instead of letting the party chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia lead the charge.

The Congress has been working hard on convincing the party workers, media and the people that Rahul is no longer a reluctant warrior. That he is keen to take the fight to the BJP's camp at the slightest opportunity. That Rahul's days of prevaricating, his hesitant moves on taking on the government were over. That he has emerged as the main protagonist against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Rahul too, after his return from several disappearing acts and the criticism following thereon took pains to send a message that he was battle-ready. Of late, he has been the first to visit spots where he saw an opening for him to put the government on the mat.  

But it seems Rahul's DNA is not yet programmed for taking the mantle of protagonist opposition leader. His escape from leading the charge on the crucial debate shows he is not yet ready to go for Modi's jugular.

On the contrary, the young and feisty Smriti Irani grabbed the space vacated by Rahul of a young, vocal, aggressive and combative leader.

As human resources minister, the ministry under which the university affairs fall, she should have been put in the dock. Allegations of meddling in the Vemula's case with political motives against not one but two union ministers is solid ground for putting Irani in place.

As a consummate actor and skillful verbal manipulator, Irani assumed the role of both the government's chief spokesperson and the opposition's chief warrior. There was no opposition to her. She left Rahul high and dry.

Rahul forgot that opposition leaders enjoy much better field to speak, to vent their anger over issues that agitate the people than the ruling party. They can push the boundaries of debate to the discomfort of the government. Not being in government doesn't saddle Rahul with responsibilities that very often restrict the ruling party.   

Opposition leaders need to debate with passion, need to be combative and put on their best oratorical skills. Rahul could have shown that he can be aggressive and combative and could have won the hearts of the nation's students and youth. It was a chance to appeal directly to the students and youth that he missed.

"The government will not let me speak" is a lame excuse. There are no rules of procedures of Parliament that restricts the right of the opposition parties to speak. The only way a member can be prevented from speaking is by stalling, disrupting and needling by members of rival parties. Rahul can argue that number favours the BJP in the Lok Sabha.

But even small party leaders with small numbers have established their reputation in the House debate by deploying lungpower, oratorical skills and marshaling facts in defiance of the number equation.

Madhu Dandavate, a veteran socialist leader on the opposition benches in the Lok Sabha, had a favourite tagline to throw at the Congress whenever the ruling party members tried to stall him.

"Even 400 Congress members can't drown my voice in the House." And his voice never got drowned either in the din or by the shouting brigades of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It's true the Congress has shrunk to the lowest ever number of 44 in the Lok Sabha. The BJP has 282 members. But that's a much better ruling-opposition number ratio than what was in the 1984-1989 Lok Sabha- 404 of the Congress against 30 of the second largest party.

Rahul would have rallied the support of the entire opposition benches if he had taken on the government.  All that he needed was a fighting spirit, which he lacks.

Time for the Congress to change the horse before the battle goes in midstream. It might be too late then.

Writer

Ashok K Singh Ashok K Singh @kashoksingh

He is a journalist, writer and commentator.

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