The failure of the Congress to maintain its focus on Rahul Gandhi’s original objective of preventing Narendra Modi from retaining power at the Centre could boomerang on the grand old party. In fact the subsequent distractions created by lack of well-thought through strategy, in one form or the other, appears to have weakened the Congress president, instead of augmenting his endeavours. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s formal entry into the centre stage of the political arena, and her statements as well as actions, are indicative that the Congress campaign lacked a persistently coordinated battle plan as opposed to the well-oiled BJP poll machinery.
What is evident is that the Congress has been unable to overcome its Hamletic, “to be or not to be” moment, and as a result has ended up appearing like a schizophrenic party. Rahul’s initiatives to build a strong coalition against the saffron brigade clearly have not succeeded, because somewhere down the line, some of his colleagues have not allowed his relationship with possible alliance partners to be consolidated. The lurking suspicion is that within the Congress, there is a deliberate effort to sabotage what was sought to be done by Rahul.
The party high command has been given the impression by its sycophants that the Congress would touch the 150-mark when statistically speaking it could fall short of even half that number. Instead of amalgamating the opposition unity, the Congress seems to be pro-actively enfeebling it, resulting in all kinds of speculation, including one of a negotiated settlement with its political rivals. Last year, by allowing Janata Dal (Secular) to form the government in Karnataka, with the active support of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi had displayed both political maturity and magnanimity. However, after this pragmatic step, consistency of this nature has been on the wane.
Last week Jyotiraditya Scindia managed to persuade the BSP’s Lok Sabha nominee of the Guna Parliamentary seat, from where he is seeking re-election, to join the Congress shortly before Mayawati was to address a rally there. At an opportune time, an indignant Mayawati is likely to retaliate and she most likely may withdraw support to the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh making her ally Akhilesh Yadav to follow suit. It is another matter that the BSP had agreed to back Kamal Nath in his personal capacity though clearly she had no commitment with the Congress.
The fissures within the Congress ranks are visible, primarily because there is no leader with experience and the ability to monitor and provide the correct direction. The party’s relationship with both the SP and BSP is a matter of worry as is also its dealings with the Left, particularly the CPM. The CPM is disconcerted with the Congress for fielding Rahul Gandhi against its nominee from Wayanad. Similarly, the aspersions cast by the Congress leadership on Mamata Banerjee are not going to be easily swept away.
Unlike Sonia Gandhi, who emerged as the undisputed leader of an anti-BJP alliance during the Shimla conclave held in July 2003, Rahul Gandhi is finding it difficult to emulate her. This is so, because the entire coalition doctrine was put into place and scripted by party veterans, Arjun Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and Pranab Mukherjee. At the moment there is nobody with similar political acumen who has been given a free hand to forge strong ties with potential associates.
In fact, within the Congress, often the left hand does not know what the right is doing. For instance, it is being said that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra till the very end was unaware about the Congress plans to re-nominate Ajay Rai from Varanasi. She expressed her displeasure by reprimanding a close aide of Rahul, while emphasising that she was not in the loop regarding selection of party candidates. If political grapevine is to be believed, she is understood to have further questioned the credentials of this particular aide as well as an important functionary of the party.
The BJP seems to be benefiting in the internal turf war which is going on within the Congress. What several top leaders are losing sight of is that India needs both a strong Congress and an equally robust opposition. If the Congress was to disintegrate or get further incapacitated, it would have an adverse impact on the overall well-being of the country. This is due to the fact that the Congress is the only national party that has an all India base and connects with the people for historic reasons.
The immediate challenge before the Congress High Command is that it should, even at this late stage, be able to wrest the political initiative from its detractors. It has allowed the BJP to trample its very existence. The consequence is that the Congress today is in the process of becoming an irrelevant party.
The last minute public pronouncements, by both Rahul and Priyanka, are moves at repositioning the Congress for the leadership role in the post-poll scenario. They should remember that the only role the party can have is that of a facilitator and not the spearhead of the likely coalition of anti-NDA parties. The party should not appear that it has a split personality requiring psychoanalysis.
Time is running out, and the Congress high command should be inspired by poet Iqbal’s immortal lines, “Watan ki fikr kar nadaan, museebat aane wali hai, teri barbaadiyon ke mashware hain aasmano mein, na samjhoge to mit jaoge Hindustan walo, tumhari dastan tak bhi na hogi dastaanon mein”. Between us.