The outcome of the Karnataka polls slated for next month would definitely have a significant impact on the political future of Rahul Gandhi, as it would determine whether the Congress would qualify to be a major factor in any future alliance of opposition parties against the ruling dispensation. Fighting with his back to the wall, and with all the resources at his command, Rahul is engaged in the most burdensome and strenuous task of resurrecting the 132-year-old party, which during the 2014 Parliamentary polls faced its lowest moment, bagging merely 44 seats.

With forces working overtime, both within the Congress and outside, to thwart his success, the Congress president has so far exhibited exemplary daring and grit to take on his opponents. However, his primary focus is to ensure that the Congress is able to retain Karnataka despite the colossal challenge posed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is bent upon wresting the crucial southern state in order to re-open its gateway to South India. The Hindi fixation and obsession of some BJP leaders, and their over-confidence are certainly working out to the advantage of the Congress. This surely, by afar, does not indicate that the saffron brigade was going to permit its rivals to have smooth sailing on the politically turbulent waters of Cauvery.

The dilemma for Rahul is similar to what it was when the Punjab Assembly elections took place last year. In this instance, in case, the party wins, the credit will go to its state leader Siddaramaiah. However, in the occurrence of the party being humbled, the blame would fall on the high command and the central leadership, which would be playing a crucial role in the ticket distribution. Therefore, in order to flourish and thrive, as well as to steer his party towards likely victories at the end of the year in three other states, Rahul by no means can afford to lose Karnataka.

Undoubtedly in the past few months, there has been a huge transformation in the Congress president and he is no longer seen as the “Pappu”; perpetually referred to by his detractors till very recently. The Rahul of today is far more confident and well-equipped to lead his party, notwithstanding continuous attempts by several veteran leaders to pull him down or plant obstacles in his path. His floundering to rein in rogue elements within his party primarily lies with his own hesitation in weeding them out in one go, and his reluctance to reconstitute his own team with politically mature, perceptive and astute lieutenants. The real reason is that he has nobody of any gravitas to advice him, thereby making him heavily lean on his predecessor Sonia Gandhi for setting the political agenda. Sonia, in turn, is over-dependent on some senior leaders, who hold a muted view of Rahul, but is ineffectual in taking any action against them.

In the last week, Rahul’s two protests have courted controversy for the wrong reasons. The Rajghat fast, turned out to be a disaster, after top Delhi leaders were caught on camera, partaking a sumptuous meal at an old Delhi eatery on the morning of the event. As it turned out, the photographs were clicked by a Congress supporter who first circulated it on the WhatsApp of his personal group. Subsequently, the photos were further shared, till the BJP had the last laugh, passing on “the incriminating” evidence to the media. The issue of the protest went on the backburner as TV channels emphasised on the feasting leaders and the farcical fast.

At the same event, media attention was deliberately or inadvertently, drawn to the presence at the venue of two senior Congress leaders—Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. The electronic coverage created an impression that the duo was asked to depart by the Congress president since they faced allegations of being involved in the anti-Sikh 1984 riots. The actuality is that certain local leaders, wanting to settle their personal scores, designed a set-up, while the fact of the matter is that no one, leave alone Rahul Gandhi, asked them to leave. Sajjan had left early complaining of Delhi-belly, while Tytler exited after meeting those present.

Evidently, there were vested interests within the party that wanted to divert the attention from the “fast” to other matters which diluted the protest so as to reflect poorly on the Congress president. There was a calculated plan to damage him, and to some degree it did since the Dalit issue was put on the backburner. On Thursday, the midnight candle light march for justice to the Kathua rape victim similarly demonstrated that there was something drastically wrong with the organisation after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had to angrily admonish activists, who indulged in pushing and jostling on such a solemn occasion. Husband Robert Vadra’s sound-bites attracted media attention and somehow did not sit too well with either party workers or others. The aberrations at these two protests may seem negligible, but reveal that there is much to be done by the Congress to overcome its most dismal patch.

Rahul, by now, should be able to understand and recognise the nuances of the party politics and thus for his own sake ensure that mere pawns do not topple his plans on the chess board. Inspiration should be drawn from Bobby Fischer while making apt moves to deploy the Sicilian Defence in the game. Between Us.

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