Failed experiments of Rahul Gandhi
His several attempts to rejuvenate the Congress have met with severe setbacks.
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In a bid to capture power in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh and to reinvigorate the Congress, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi embarked on the 2,500km "Kisan Yatra" from Deoria on September 6. He started his campaign with a khaat-sabha with the state's farmers. There were about 2,000 "khaats" or wooden cots at the Rudrapur ground for farmers to sit on and interact with him. On the first day, he met the farmers, promised them a loan waiver and reduction in power tariff by 50 per cent if voted to power in the 2017 assembly polls.
Meanwhile, the moot question is, will the Gandhi scion be able to gather steam with his yatra, whether he has the charisma to galvanise the farmers of the country, whether he has the potential to rejuvenate the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and end its 27-year exile from power there?
It would be pertinent to infer the answer to the above questions by analysing whether Rahul's experiments have proved successful in the past and whether he has stood by what he has vouched for.
Firstly, after the Lok Sabha poll debacle, Rahul's "primary" experiment failed to gather steam. This (general election) project was closer to Rahul's heart, launched as it was before the election with an attempt to democratise the party and end the "high-command culture", but it failed to deliver results with not even a single candidate from the chosen 15 winning; in fact they lost by huge margins.
After the drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was in no mood to carry on with the experiments of its vice-president. Party leaders showed reluctance when he chose candidates for the assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi.
Rahul launched primaries in the Congress on January 17, 2014, on the lines of the US presidential election where party members elect their candidate. It was an endeavour to make ticket distribution more transparent and to increase participation of Congress workers in the voting process. But, Rahul's experiment to empower grassroots leaders fell flat. Not a single candidate from the 15 earmarked seats (from the primarie quota) could register a win.
Prominent among those who lost were: Rahul's confidante, AICC communications department chairman Ajay Maken in New Delhi, former Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee chief JP Agrawal in North-East Delhi and Meenakshi Natarajan in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. Rahul, while launching the primaries, had even said that if the experiment proved successful, it would be put in practice in future elections.
Secondly, Rahul's experiment to cultivate Dalit leaders in UP faced severe opposition. Most of the Gandhi's army of nearly 400 Dalit leaders refused to contest the UP Panchayat elections in November 2015. It was on account of resistance among the old guard against his ambitious "leadership development mission". Of the Dalit leaders identified in 84 reserved assembly segments in Uttar Pradesh, only about 10 per cent agreed to contest the local body elections.
The Congress wanted to gauge the success of these candidates in the panchayat elections. But the result was far from encouraging. Only 20 per cent of the candidates won in the elections which saw 4,00,000 candidates contesting in over 3,000 kshetra and zila panchayat elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party claimed that 600 of its party members won, of which 20 per cent are Dalits. This experiment too failed.Rahul Gandhi has failed to garner support from Mayawati's Dalit supporters. (Photo credit: India Today)
Thirdly, Rahul, despite publicly condemning the UPA government's ordinance to negate the Supreme Court order on disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs, shook hands with Lalu Yadav and forged an alliance during the Bihar Assembly elections.
It was on September 27, 2013, that he had publicly criticised the UPA government's ordinance, terming it "complete nonsense". He said: "I'll tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It's complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away. That is my personal opinion."
By saying so, Rahul took the high moral ground that corruption and corrupt leaders are anathema to the Congress. He was trying to send the message that the party would not shake hands with Lalu, the RJD supremo who was convicted in the Rs 950-crore fodder scam. But, it was barely after ten months, in July 2014, that the Congress forged an alliance with the RJD to contest the Bihar elections. This was almost a U-turn for the party.
Fourthly, in 2013, when Rahul became party vice-president, he flagged the issue of political migrants getting party tickets, saying he would put an end to the practice. He made the same pitch on July 16, 2015, when he said the party will give tickets only to those who had worked on the ground for the poor, farmers and labourers. But Rahul's concern over outsiders getting tickets has not been given due importance.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, seven defectors joined the Congress in UP; in Bihar, the Congress which contested on 12 seats allowed two outside candidates; in Maharasthra, sitting Shiv Sena MP Bhausaheb Wakchaure defected to the Congress but lost the election; in Rajasthan, one leader defected to the Congress.
Fifthly, though it was not Rahul's experiment, he was booed by girls of Mount Carmel College in Bangalore. In an attempt to slam Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP's Clean India campaign, Rahul had made the failed attempt to get the desired reaction from the students there. Slamming the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, when the young MP asked the students if they thought the campaign was working, they responded with a resonating "yes"!