Dear Mr Bhagat,
It is extremely thoughtful of you to draw up a 10-point agenda for the Congress party in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections. It is heartening to observe that you attach a finite probability to Congress winning the 2019 battle. However, I’d like to point out that this scenario has always been around, and you’re a tad late in taking note of the same. I read your well-intended piece, and thought you should know that your attempt to pit Sachin Pilot against Rahul Gandhi has few takers.
Dear All, “How Congress can win 2019,” my col in TOI today. Some out of the box ideas. Read fully and with open mind. https://t.co/hlaRwcP083— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) February 17, 2018
Should Congress make Sachin Pilot the PM candidate?
Sachin Pilot has been instrumental in seeing Congress through victory in the recently concluded by-elections in Rajasthan. Without getting binary in my approach, for me, Sachin Pilot has proven to be a brilliant executor in Rajasthan and God willing, has a long political innings ahead of him.
However, one must be cautious of falling prey to recency affect. He lost his Lok Sabha seat in 2014 to the Modi wave, unlike Rahul Gandhi who won despite it. I believe we shouldn’t burden Sachin Pilot with our expectations.
Give him the freedom to evolve, gain experience and carve a niche for himself. Let us not forget, PM Modi himself mastered the craft in Gujarat, before he acquired a national appeal.
Going by BJP’s sharp attacks, it is quite evident that even BJP perceives only Rahul Gandhi as direct competition to PM Modi. This is my opinion, and you are entitled to yours. My only contention is, how is it okay for Sachin Pilot to be a dynast and not someone else? Selective bias?
Will Rahul Gandhi support another person as the PM candidate?
It is surprising, why should Rahul Gandhi’s support to any PM candidate of the Congress party, even be an issue of discussion; isn’t it speculating the obvious. In 2004, when Sonia Gandhi decided against assuming the PM’s office, there was nothing that stopped Rahul Gandhi from rising to the occasion.
Five years later, when he won his second consecutive Lok Sabha election and the INC was on an upward trajectory with 206 seats, he once again decided against the obvious. He has always appealed to the electorate to vote for the Congress, as opposed to those who ask the voters to vote for a specific leader.
Is the Opposition raising enough issues?
It is disturbing to observe that the social set-up has ruptured on multiple occasions and job crisis is a pressing issue for the incumbent. For a party that opposed every initiative when in Opposition, from GST to Aadhaar to foreign investment, the Congress party is a rational and constructive Opposition. Admittedly, a Gallup poll would be a good way for the Congress to identify issues and weave its campaign accordingly.
Does the Congress party have a unique narrative?
There has been consistent criticism from all quarters that the Opposition does not have a narrative. It is untrue that the Opposition does not have a story to tell. What it does not have, are enough story-tellers who are willing to narrate its story. In the event of skewed media support and shrinking cadre, there is definitely a missing link between the Congress and the common man. This is the time to participate in all debates, communicate on every possible platform and if possible, refrain from avoiding media houses.
Is the Congress party anti-Hindu?
Clearly the Congress is not anti-Hindu. On the contrary, it is this inclusive politics that has surprised the electorate, shocked the Hindutva brigade and visibly disturbed those who proclaimed exclusivity on politics of religion. Rahul Gandhi’s innocuous temple visits rattle ideologues across board, mainly because he is emerging as a far more inclusive leader than his critics ever expected and purists could ever espouse. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency in politics; irrespective of the ethnicity of the electorate, never take them granted or ignore them at the hustings.
Should Congress form alliances?
Pre-poll alliance is a bad idea in this day and age. Both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party paid heavily during the UP Assembly elections, because voters didn't want their party to dilute its ideology or compromise on power even before the ballot is sealed. As far as a post-poll coalition is concerned, the Congress has always maintained cordial relations with its ideological alliance partners. Undoubtedly, the resulting coalition should sign on to minimum hygiene factors like intolerance to corruption and defection.
Are certain leaders in the Congress a liability?
It is high time, certain leaders in the Congress start proving themselves. With a young, energetic and committed leadership pipeline, there is little to worry about. Mass leaders should be winning seats on their own, not languishing in Rajya Sabha. Under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, we expect representation in Lok Sabha and wisdom in Rajya Sabha.
Should winnability of candidates be the sole criterion?
This is a tricky turf for most organisation leaders primarily because of two reasons. One, a winnable candidate may not always be the best carrier of the party’s core values. Two, the candidate mix should be representative of the party’s ethos. No party should have everything riding on its poster face or the candidate. A voter should vote for the party through the candidate, and not elect the candidate through a party symbol. For example, 2014 elections were so submerged under the Modi wave, that we ended up with a Modi sarkar, and not a BJP government. This puts undue pressure on PM Modi and very little accountability on all other parliamentarians.
Does the Congress party have enough digital muscle?
There is no way the party could afford to ignore the power of digital communication and going by the recent trends, digital communication is evidently a critical piece in the larger scheme of things. The Congress party has made its presence felt on the digital medium, (thankfully in a civilised, authentic and ethical way) visible from the prime time debates that discuss Rahul Gandhi’s tweets time and again.
However, the party needs to acknowledge that Twitter is just one part of the social media ecosystem. It needs to up its ante on Facebook and WhatsApp too. Last but not the least, Rahul Gandhi should not be using Twitter as a means to interact with the media. One can always do with more Hindi and vernacular press conferences.
Is Congress party evil?
Mr Bhagat, I wish, I really wish the Congress party was brutally political. The party has not damned the means for the ends, which is why, it did not form the government in Goa and Manipur. As the famous adage goes, “Saam Daam, Dand, Bhed”, the party is yet to resort to "by hook or by crook" politics.
Even after the flurry of distasteful jokes, personal attacks and constant abuse of its tall leaders, the party has not even remotely alluded to an "XYZ-mukt Bharat".
The Congress party has covered significant ground since its debacle in 2014. From writing off 2019 in 2014 itself, to pouring in list of suggestions, clearly a lot is going for Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
May the idea of India win.