Rahul Gandhi is promoting the Congress as the protector of democracy and the voice of the people.
The Congress Party’s pronouncement that it is ready to support any non-BJP/NDA formation following the election results reflects the continuing commitment of its president, Rahul Gandhi, to knock the BJP/NDA out of power. Mr Gandhi has said that if the Congress president is required by consensus to lead the combined non-BJP government he will do so in the interest of the country.
The Congress has reiterated its openness, without claim, to lead subject to unanimity among the leadership of allies in the post-poll situation. There is a dire need for positive thought and astute strategising to create a gathbandhan of like minds and create consensus within the Congress-gathbandhan and Federal Front participants. Mr Gandhi has a herculean task ahead of him.
Mr Gandhi has established himself as a formidable leader in national politics. His commitment is loud and clear. In his untiring campaigns, he has proven everyone wrong on his ability to lead the nation. At 49, he seems to be at peace with his role as the All India Congress Committee president. His ancestry has thrust it upon him and he is most astutely accomplishing this job.
Mr Gandhi’s political narrative is people-centric. He now presents a transformed vision. He may not have the gift of the gab like the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, does; but can convey his political viewpoints to the electorate. He interacts with the media calmly and easily.
Mr Gandhi has, however, taken more time to display his skills. He has taken time to show maturity in handling the most critical issues of the nation. His performance had been found wanting between 2004 and 2014. He was then deemed to be a non-serious politician. The 2014 election was a low point and for four years thereafter it seemed he had completely lost his bearings. The BJP’s victory in the 2017 UP elections, in which his partnership with SP’s Akhilesh Yadav did not bear fruit, raised doubts about his acumen.
Mr Gandhi became the Congress president in December 2017. From 2004 onwards, once he started taking an active interest in party affairs, that post had been his for the taking. He may seek to explain away the role of ancestry in his political life but nevertheless cannot deny its importance. The fact is that the Nehru-Gandhis played a leading role in nation-building, and this, along with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s martyrdom, are deeply embedded in public memory. That is the greatest strength of the Congress party in India. In almost every household of the country, there is a Congressman present.
During the Assembly elections of Gujarat and Karnataka, Mr Gandhi emerged as the principal challenger to Mr Modi. In a skilful political manoeuvre, he prevented the BJP from forming government in Karnataka even though it had emerged as the single largest party.
The success in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh last November, knocking the ruling BJP out in the three states, was a shot in the arm for the Congress. It burnished Mr Gandhi’s political image throughout the country.
Mr Gandhi is promoting the Congress as the protector of the voice and the aspirations of the people. His party will always strive to lend an ear to them and save societal plurality and the sanctity of the institutions of democracy.
Mr Gandhi attacks the Modi model of governance as despotic and authoritarian. His view has gained legitimacy as they highlight major failures vis-à-vis running of the economy of the country. Consequent to these failures, the common man and woman are suffering colossal hardship.
Mr Gandhi coined the slogan, “chowkidar chor hai”. The slogan was aimed at Mr Modi in relation to alleged irregularities and favouritism in awarding of the contracts for the Rafale fighter jet deal. The government has denied any wrongdoing. The case is being heard by the Supreme Court of India.
Mr Gandhi’s principal appeal to the people lies in the fact that he is seen to be the main challenger of and alternative to the Prime Minister. He has aggressively campaigned for the defeat of the saffron party.
Over the past one year, Mr Gandhi has handled the party very well in preparing for the national elections despite a few hiccups in making pre-poll alliances. He has also kept to the party’s middle-of-the-road ideology. Nevertheless, Mr Gandhi has also projected a Hindu image underlining the need for a tolerant, compassionate and inclusive society. His economic vision does not essentially depart from his party’s traditional positions but he seeks to emphasise a pro-poor position. On national security, he has astutely maintained a patriotic view, saying that the truth is that we completely neutralised Pakistan and we did so strategically.
Mr Gandhi has imparted a sense of purpose to the Congress Party. But he has some distance to go in establishing its pre-eminence in the national scenario. The Congress no longer has the biggest footprint nationwide, and its organisational and electoral machinery is still lacking. Its fund-raising capacity that is vital to politics is puny compared to its biggest rival, the BJP. Above all, in the crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, the Congress is of little consequence.
In India, 65 per cent of the population is under 35 years of age. A huge aspirational India exists. Bearing the legacy of Nehru’s “the tryst with destiny”, Indira Gandhi’s sacrifice, Rajiv Gandhi’s scientific vision and the political outreach skills of Sonia Gandhi, Mr Gandhi has a long way to go. But political and electoral success will chase him because he leads from the front, and establishes an inclusive dialogue with the masses. He promotes a progressive narrative and creates a modern vision that connects with aspirational India.
So Mr Gandhi is the leader in whom the masses are placing their confidence. It is proven that he has the power to influence and lead the country through the constitutional process. The country expects the Indian National Congress under him to undertake the unfulfilled task of building a modern India, free of intolerance, hate and discrimination, after this general election is over.
The writer is a senior advocate and a political analyst based in Srinagar