By Amulya Ganguli
It is obvious that the secular camp is hoping against hope to revive the moribund Congress so that it can take on the BJP. Some in the group are also banking on Rahul Gandhi to shed his part-timer tag and take to the field in real earnest. The validity of both the objectives cannot be doubted.
For a start, the Congress’s position as the only pan-Indian opposition party at the national despite its patent weaknesses is undeniable. The 136-year-old formerly Grand Old Party is still the only one among the non-BJP parties whose influence stretches across the land despite its patchy nature.
From Punjab and Rajasthan in the north to Maharashtra in the west to Chhattisgarh in central India to Tamil Nadu in the south, the Congress can boast of its presence in these provinces unlike any other party on the Left-Liberal side of the political space.
All the others are confined to their respective states whether it is the Trinamool Congress (West Bengal) or the Nationalist Congress Party (Maharashtra) or the DMK (Tamil Nadu) or the CPI-M (Kerala) or the Aam Admi Party (Delhi) or the Rashtriya Janata Dal (Bihar) or the Samajwadi Party (U.P). Other regional parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the YSR Congress, the Biju Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party are outside the Left-Liberal fold because of their overt or covert saffron connections.
It is understandable, therefore, why the Congress remains the fulcrum of the secular group. And why as a possible future president of the party, Rahul Gandhi remains indispensable as a leader if only because there is no one else with a pan-Indian image. Notwithstanding his laidback attitude, the BJP appears to have realized that Rahul cannot be ignored because he poses a kind of an incipient threat.
What is this threat? It is the possibility of a realization among the people that for all the charge of being a part-timer, Rahul is essentially a decent individual, vastly different from the arrogant, vindictive, scheming and unscrupulous top honchos of the Hindutva brotherhood whose guiding motto is “jail not bail” so far as its political opponents are concerned.
It is because Rahul is a gentleman and not a bully that the BJP wastes no time to traduce him as Pappu or a juvenile delinquent, as Union minister Smriti Irani called him, lest his personable qualities expose the crude pugnacity of his perennial critics.
This is why Nirmala Sitharaman lost her cool when Rahul was portrayed sitting on a pavement with migrant labourers because she knew that the snooty, self-aggrandizing members of her party will never deign to converse on familiar terms with ordinary people and that their conceited attitude may be widely noted to the BJP’s detriment.
This is not to deny that Rahul has his disadvantages. The most grievous of them is that he lacks the killer instinct which the BJP has in oodles. He also appears to be unconcerned about letting restive Congressmen look for greener pastures or formulating clear guidelines for the party to follow.
So, a Jitin Prasada can desert what he thinks is a sinking ship or Nana Patole can raise doubts about the viability of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra to the BJP’s delight. This carefree attitude was on display when Rahul played with his dog when Himanta Biswa Sarma was voicing his dissatisfaction with the Congress leadership in Assam before jumping ship.
Although Rahul had once said that he tends to be more stern than his mother, this strictness is less in evidence than a kind of laissez-faire attitude towards organizational discipline. Such leniency was a part of the Congress’s working style as an umbrella party which once accommodated everyone from E.M.S. Namboodiripad on the Left to K.B. Hedgewar on the Right.
Except during the Emergency, such an easygoing mode of politics marked India’s public life when Jawaharlal Nehru could single out Atal Behari Vajpayee as a future prime minister. Although bureaucrats were on their way to becoming caged parrots, professionalism had not yet been totally extinguished.
The scene is different today with the government even threatening to act as the super-censor of films unlike in any other democracy and a poem not appreciated by the Hindutva brigade being branded as the work of literary Naxals. The Congress and other “secular” parties can no longer afford, therefore, to pursue the kind of relaxed politics practised in the pre-2014 period.
Since the Congress, willy nilly, cannot but be the pivot of opposition politics at the national level, Rahul will have to brace himself for a more assertive role without compromising his gentlemanly ways which are his answer to a crass adversary. (IPA Service)