Lt. Col. Pusapati Vijay Ananda Gajapathi Raju, the honourable Maharaja of Vizianagaram, finest often known as Vizzy, grew to become the captain of the Indian cricket group on its tour to England in 1936. Vizzy was an enormous cricket fanatic and had bankrolled Indian cricket for years. The difficulty was that he was horrible on the recreation, and envious of those that might play. The story goes that he bribed one group member with a gold watch to run one other out, and compelled an injured batsman to pad-up and anticipate hours to make sure he couldn’t relaxation. However nobody might say something to him since he paid everybody’s salaries. even an offended phrase stated sotto voce might get a prime participant sacked from the group and despatched dwelling.
Later, when he was too previous to play, Vizzy grew to become a commentator. His public talking expertise have been so poor that after, when he was regaling the listeners with tales about his exploits in tiger-hunting, his co-commentator quipped, “I believed you left a transistor radio on whereas commentating and bored them (the tigers) to loss of life.” And for such sterling companies, Vizzy was knighted by King Edward VIII.
Many Indians, particularly these on the liberal facet of the political divide, imagine Rahul Gandhi is the Congress celebration’s Vizzy. He’s a poor politician, an erratic communicator, doesn’t perceive realpolitik and is insecure about younger leaders within the celebration who might most likely do a greater job of main it. You’ll hear pissed off commentary from liberals about how it’s time for the Gandhi scion to give up politics altogether, and let somebody extra competent deal with India’s Grand Open Celebration.
The query that nobody needs to reply is why is there no open challenger for the publish of Congress President from any of the favourites of Lutyens liberals? Why don’t different stars of the celebration break up it after which demand the Congress celebration’s election image from the Election Fee? The reply, as each Congress chief is aware of, is that there can actually be no Congress with out the Gandhis. They’re nonetheless the one pan-national model of the celebration. The Gandhi title continues to be essentially the most identifiable image for the Congress, way more than the hand, the celebration’s image on Digital Voting Machines or EVMs.
For a lot of, they’re nonetheless India’s model of the Royal Household. So even a mean political opponent on the road needs to see, contact and maybe take a selfie with them. A current instance got here from Uttar Pradesh, the place BJP employees getting back from a rally wished to work together with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. In our deeply racist and colour-conscious post-colonial nation, it helps that they’re half-phoren. Which means even when voters don’t have any intention of voting for the Congress, they flip up for rallies and road-shows held by the Gandhis. No different Congress chief can hope for such mass curiosity.
This, certainly, is the Congress celebration’s tragedy. It’s trapped in a mode the place it will probably solely be led by a dynasty, however on the similar time, that dynasty is a straightforward goal for the Opposition. It may be blamed for India’s issues (Nehru is the wrongdoer), it may be known as corrupt (Rajiv’s Bofors) and it may be known as anti-democratic (Indira’s Emergency). The Gandhis are just like the proverbial poison in Shiva’s throat – which might neither be spat out nor swallowed. So the one actual choice for bold leaders is to go away the celebration and be part of different formations which could have them.
The Gandhis themselves know that they’re indispensable. That makes them autocratic and eccentric. Rahul Gandhi’s public persona seems to be that of an individual pushed by a private sense of morality, knowledgeable extra by political concept than by the pragmatism required by electoral politics. If he makes overtures in direction of vote-gathering populism (showing in temples every so often), it appears half-hearted. Rahul Gandhi usually sticks his neck out to assist politically-correct however unpopular causes, a lot to the chagrin of his backers. They are saying he ought to take a leaf out of Arvind Kejriwal’s playbook and easily keep away from points that inflame majoritarian passions.
Nonetheless, it could be naive to suppose that the Congress celebration’s issues are simply that of Rahul Gandhi’s management model and his frequent absenteeism. Its greater situation is that the construction of energy in India has modified essentially. The Nehru-Congress was basically a ‘governmental’ celebration, which represented the bureaucratic-managerial class that dominated India. It commanded the heights of India’s economic system, and performed the position of balancing the pursuits of the capitalist class and massive landlords. The bureaucratic-managerial class additional tightened its management over establishments and coverage throughout Indira Gandhi’s first stint as Prime Minister.
But, when she got here again to energy in 1980, Indira set in movement a course of that might result in the disempowerment of the Lutyens elite. India’s tryst with privatisation and liberalisation, which started beneath Indira’s Operation Ahead would step by step take energy away from the babus and shift it in direction of India’s mercantile caste-communities. This course of bought accelerated after the Rao-Manmohan reforms in 1991. It nonetheless took one other twenty years to lastly culminate within the rule of the mercantile lessons. As we speak, public discourse is dominated by mercantile concepts and the tradition of India’s enterprise castes and communities. The Congress celebration, with its overwhelming Lutyens-tilt, has no place right here.
On the opposite facet is the celebration’s over-centralisation, which started beneath Indira Gandhi. She wanted it to battle the regional satraps who have been against her management. Within the course of, she diminished regional leaders and disemboweled celebration organisations in states. Regional aspirations might solely get expressed in regional events, outdoors the Congress fold. Equally, the Congress celebration’s top-down strategy meant that the political actions of backward castes and Dalits might solely get articulated in distinct caste-parties. So in states with robust regional elites and in these with populous dominant castes, the Congress has no area.
Which means the Gandhis must work out a method outdoors this framework. That is simpler stated than performed, however some broad contours will be drawn out. Crucial of those is elevating funds. Whereas Rahul Gandhi has made it a fetish to assault the large two of India Inc, the Congress doesn’t appear to have made any severe try to achieve out to different enterprise homes which have been ignored by the Modi regime. Rahul Gandhi additionally must discover a strategy to attain out to center degree entrepreneurs and take up their causes, foyer for them and even agitate on their behalf. This can be a constituency which has been loyal to the BJP, and to political Hindutva, however it will probably change to the Congress if the celebration constantly bats for them.
The Gandhis additionally should cease losing time on states the place the Congress has no likelihood. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and even perhaps West Bengal are three such states. They’re huge, require loads of detailed consideration, time and assets. The Congress ought to ignore them and have become junior companions of robust regional alliances. The Gandhis ought to supply regional events an alliance on the centre, with ministerial posts, in alternate for just a few seats. This is kind of the mannequin the Congress follows in Tamil Nadu, and it wants to surrender its Hindi-belt obsession and implement it within the North as effectively.
Giving up on three giant states additionally means the Gandhis have to surrender their technique of going-it-alone. The Congress ought to reorient itself in direction of being the most important non-BJP celebration, as an alternative of making an attempt to intention for an absolute majority by itself. The goal ought to be about 100 seats, which is able to put it ready to guide a non-BJP authorities on the centre, the place it is going to be the primary amongst equals, as an alternative of being a Large Brother.
Lastly, the Gandhis have to obviously outline what the Congress stands for – what it will probably supply to the voter, which the BJP or regional events can’t. Thus far, the celebration has did not provide you with a USP, apart from harping on its previous expertise. That message has no takers, and that’s exactly what wants to vary first.
(Aunindyo Chakravarty was Senior Managing Editor of NDTV’s Hindi and Enterprise information channels.)
Disclaimer: These are the non-public opinions of the writer.