Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ slogan was a monumental disaster.
In the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sure-footed. The Congress—read Rahul Gandhi—was flat-footed. It was Narendra Modi’s election. He outwitted the earnest, decent Congress president almost each day. Narendra Modi set the narrative of the election. Rahul Gandhi’s “Chowkidar Chor Hai” swan song was a monumental disaster.
I heard the speech Prime Minister Modi made on 23 May at the headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi. I have no hesitation in saying that he spoke like a statesman. He emphasised that the people of India had re-elected him as the Prime Minister of India. To him, the Constitution was all important. He said consensus was essential for nation building. He had a dig at the CPI and CPM. The working class no longer wore the badge of the Left. He firmly spoke of robust nationalism. He pitched into the elitists with a certain contempt. He made no mention of mandir or masjid. No reference was made to Article 370 or 35A. No politics of vengeance, the Prime Minister said.
How did the BJP manage to get over 300 seats? Party president Amit Shah is a no-nonsense electoral planner of genius. He had been working for over a year with dedication and vigour to ensure that the BJP organisation was well-oiled, the workers enthused, inspired by Narendra Modi’s persona, his boldness, his energy and clear-headedness. Amit Shah turned his leader into a national hero, who had no rival.
During the election, the BJP leadership made full use of the air attack on Balakot. The Air Force entered Pakistan territory, which no previous government had ventured to do. China watched but did not actively support Pakistan. India applauded. He presented himself as a decisive, strong muscular leader. This impressed the voters.
Mamata Banerjee’s tally came down to 22 from 34. The BJP went up from two to 18. She did herself much harm by her hysterics. Serenity was missing.
In 17 states, the Congress could not get a single seat. Having won in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress lapsed into complacency, instead of reactivating itself. The BJP made inroads in Odisha and West Bengal, but did poorly in South India. In North, Central, and West India, it faced hardly any opposition.
Caste politics was almost put into the electoral dustbin. The main theme was to take care of the poor, how to improve their lot. People voted for Modi with both hands (speaking metaphorically). Demonetisation was not mentioned; so was GST, joblessness and economic failings of the Modi government. It was an amazing phenomenon. Another factor that helped the BJP was the Mahagathbandhan not taking off. Modi dismissed it as “Mahamilawatigathbandhan”.
For the Congress, it cannot be business as usual. Rahul Gandhi received a body blow in Amethi. Important Congress leaders fell like nine pins. Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijaya Singh (lost by over three lakh votes), Sheila Dikshit, Veerappa Moily, Milind Deora, Priya Dutt, Raj Babbar, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, Shatrughan Sinha, Bhupinder Hooda, Sunil Jakhar and Sushil Kumar Shinde. The BJP scored 25 out of 25 in Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh, Congress got one seat. None in Haryana, Himachal, one in UP. Only Amarinder Singh saved the day in Punjab.
I was a Congressman for nearly a quarter of a century. I know how the party works. Indian democracy needs the Congress. It has had lean periods. It is at the moment in poor shape. It has in the past shown resilience. The talk of doing away with the Gandhis is crass nonsense. This will not happen. Who will replace them? This is not a rhetorical question. But Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as Congress president will not be accepted and it wasn’t.
Work for the coming Assembly elections should start today. Brooding, blame game are a waste of time. Rahul Gandhi has his work cut out. His immediate task is to reinvent, rejuvenate, revive, reconstruct and remodel his demoralised party. He should get rid of the dead wood in the CWC and ask the Sam Pitrodas to go back to where they come from. Pitroda’s words must have cost the Congress at least 20 seats.
The Congress has no one else to bring about a radical and relevant transformation of the methods of its functioning. The induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra proved a flop. She made no difference.
In 1984, BJP sent two members to the Lok Sabha. Both Vajpayeeji and Advaniji lost. By 1998, Vajpayeeji was Prime Minister. The Congress must show political stamina. As in the case of human beings, a political party’s character is tested in times of adversity. This is the test the Congress faces. I wish Rahul Gandhi luck and success. He needs both at the moment.