Can Team Rahul Take on the Impossible Challenge?

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a meeting with Muslim community leaders and representatives on Monday.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a meeting with Muslim representatives on Monday.

The new captain of Congress has to set his team right first if he is to successfully take on a resurgent opposition


Rahul Gandhi cannot match the physical charm of his late father. I met Rajiv Gandhi in late 1980s and I have not seen a man more charming than him. His aura, his smile and his politeness were charismatic. I was in my late 20s and still he listened to me with rapt attention. But his politics did not match his charm. His entry into politics was not out of choice but forced by tragic circumstances. The death of his brother brought him into Congress and the death of his mother brought him the chair of Prime Minister. He did not have time to understand the complexities of politics. He was a simple and fair hearted man who wanted to appease everybody.

When Muslims campaigned against the Shah Bano verdict, he gave them the Muslim Women’s Act. When Muslims wrote to him about the need to ban, The Satanic Verses, he wasted no time in responding to the demand. Then some of his advisers told him that with Muslims having already been won, it was now time to please Hindus, and he had the doors of Babri Masjid unlocked.

In the process, he earned the anger of both Muslims and Hindus. When some corporates complained to him about V P Singh who as the Finance Minister had made life difficult for them, he moved him to Defence. This one move paved the way for the collapse of Congress. Had Singh not fallen ill and distanced from politics, Third Front would have perhaps continued to rule longer than it did. The failure of the Third Front gave Congress another life.

After about 25 years of meeting the father, I happened to meet the son last year. I had a long discussion with Rahul Gandhi lasting about an hour about the “Muslim Vision” document and its prescription for the country. He raised several queries and I replied in detail. I felt that he was politically not as naïve as the media made him out to be.

I found him well-informed and with clear ideological inclinations. What I liked in particular was his concern for the masses and the underprivileged sections of society. His secular credentials were beyond doubt. He arranged my meeting with some of his close associates. When I prepared ‘Agenda 2014: A Muslim Perspective,’ I sent its copy to all the major political figures of the country including Rahul Gandhi. It became one of the triggering factors behind the Muslim meet that Congress organized at Jawahar Bhawan on Monday in order to prepare a good Manifesto.

In the last one year, Rahul Gandhi has been successful in seizing initiatives on several fronts. He seems to understand the mechanics of politics and he is also acutely aware about the threat from communalism, which has sent its most effective batsmen to the crease in the hope that he will score a double hundred in the coming elections.

What worries me though is the fact that the opposition is bitterly divided. Even Congress cabinet and party stalwarts are not proving to be effective bowlers who can help Captain Rahul in containing Modi, the batsman. They are often bowling too short or too full. And if they do not correct their bowling and fielding, a big hundred, if not a double century, might well be on the way.

Congress seems to have lost the art of politicking. And they have mistaken marketing for effective politics. Of course, marketing is important but it would succeed only if politicking is right. 

The UPA government still seems to be in the bureaucratic mode. There is not a single minister who has the charisma to sway the masses. They are all relying on the young shoulders of Rahul. The problem with the young captain is that he has to take the blame for the inaction of others. But once he has become the Captain, he has to make shrewd moves to trap the opposite side. And the first requirement is to have a long dressing room session with his team including ministers and Congress functionaries.

In the recent past, lack of politicking has been obvious on too many occasions. When Rahul made the dramatic move on the Ordinance, the senior leaders got defensive in tackling BJP rather than taking full advantage of the historical move to build a larger than life image of their new captain.

Again when the Lokpal Bill was passed, it demanded an instantaneous jubilation all over the country, which could have resuscitated the spirits of Congress workers. No such effort was made by the party. When Rahul decided to visit the riot-hit Muzaffarnagar, it should have had a relief package accompanying him. But again there seems to have gone no thought into it.

When he came to listen to Muslims, the program witnessed a virtual fight among the invitees to snatch mike. I saw Dr Zafar Mahmood making strenuous efforts to get hold of the mike, and he barely succeeded. I got the mike in the presence of Rahul but there was little time to say anything big.

Rahul himself was content with making a few statements about the fear factor and the need to combine security and empowerment. He also seconded what I said about the need for greater representation in Parliament and assemblies. (I could voice three major demands there from Agenda 2014: 15 pc allotment of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha seats to Muslims, introduction of right to health, 20 pc allocation of funds to Muslim NGOs.)

With little left before elections, this meeting could have been utilised in a more effective way. Still, I feel it sent several positive messages. The need to combine security with empowerment is close to my prescription of comprehensive, multidimensional and sustained efforts on all possible fronts.

Perhaps for the first time, the young Gandhi was exposed to the views of Muslim intellectuals. It was certainly an admirable gesture but more concrete steps need to be taken in order to make a decisive impact.

What demands appreciation is that Rahul Gandhi does not appear to be overawed by the Corporate. The coming elections are going to be a direct fight between Corporate and Communal Agenda of Modi and Inclusive, Pro-poor and Secular Agenda of Rahul. All the resources are to be marshalled. Other parties have to be approached. But the new captain of Congress has to set his team right first and discipline his bowlers if the most dangerous batsman of communalism is to be dismissed before it is too late.


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