Of course, me! I’m the leader.
And you better endorse me
After eagerly waiting for helpful political parties to endorse his candidature but finding none forthcoming, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has announced his own name for prime ministership in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. He did this recently while addressing an audience during election campaigning in Karnataka. When asked whether he would assume the prime ministership if his party-led opposition grouping had the numbers, he said that he was ready and willing if the Congress were to emerge as the single largest party. The reactions which followed showed the low level of unqualified support he commands among friends.
The Nationalist Congress Party said post-2019 poll equations could well throw up its leader Sharad Pawar’s name for the post; the Samajwadi Party said it could be its chief Akhilesh Yadav; and the Left remarked that such issues should be decided at an appropriate time. All of them have been hobnobbing with the Congress in a bid to create a joint front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP ahead of the crucial election. Only the Rashtriya Janata Dal openly backed Rahul Gandhi’s self-announced candidature. This is because its supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, being a convict, cannot contest elections to either House of Parliament and is, therefore, out of the reckoning. Still, one must be thankful for small mercies — at least the RJD did not float Rabri Devi’s name for prime ministership.
The questioner had given a golden opportunity to Rahul Gandhi to embellish his credentials. He could have said one of the following things and come out looking both smart and mature:
1.“Let us not talk about 2019 at this stage. We must concentrate on retaining Karnataka. If we win here, we will strengthen our case for 2019.”
2. “It is not about an individual, and certainly not about me. It is about the track record of our party and that of the rival BJP and Prime Minister Modi. It’s a fight about ideologies, not individuals. Who becomes the Prime Minister is not as important as which party wins.”
3. It’s too early to talk about my prime ministerial candidature. Even if the Congress gets a simple majority on its own, the party’s parliamentary board will decide on the prime ministerial name. That’s how a democratic party works.”
4. You talked about my being Prime Minister in a Congress-led coalition. When the time comes, the Congress will discuss the matter with its coalition partners. We have to take our allies into confidence.”
But Rahul Gandhi messed up the chance and exposed himself and the Congress to the oft-repeated allegation of indulging in dynasty politics. Perhaps he did not think twice before answering or perhaps because the desire that had been smouldering in his heart simply burst open. In any case, this is how a feudal mind works. The Nehru-Gandhi name has been enough for decades to reach the top positions in the party and the Government. If, for some reason, that did not happen, then the family did the next best thing: It ensured control over whosoever came to a position of power. Indira Gandhi played around with Prime Minister Charan Singh, and Rajiv Gandhi played around with Prime Minister Chandrashekhar. Both Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar were hardboiled politicians with a mass base and proved to be tough customers. But Sonia Gandhi had it easy with the rootless Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, twisting him round her little finger. She had tried once before — though with less brazenness — when PV Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister, but had been outsmarted by the veteran leader.
Also, let us not forget that the Congress’s first family saw to the departure of two other Prime Ministers, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral. Besides, it had unceremoniously ousted its own party chief Sitaram Kesri. The message is clear: The family has first right over the throne and if it chooses to not have it, then the chosen one must be prepared to be remote-controlled. Rahul Gandhi belongs to the same breed. Remember how he had insulted his own party’s Government led by Manmohan Singh when he tore into an Ordinance and said it was deserving of the nearest dustbin. And yet, so servile was Manmohan Singh that he repeatedly pleaded with Rahul Gandhi to assume a ministerial responsibility.
The Congress, numbed through decades by the feudal order, has thus behaved accordingly. Kesri was blamed for disorder in the party, and Rao was held responsible for the party’s defeat in the 1996 Lok Sabha election — because the Muslim voters abandoned the Congress over the Rao Government’s failure to protect the Ayodhya mosque. But no one made Rajiv Gandhi accountable for the Congress’s defeat in 1989, and none of the senior party leaders to this day have questioned Rahul Gandhi for leading his party to defeat after defeat in various elections across the country in the last four years. On the contrary, the Congress kept promoting him, eventually making him the party’s national president.
If the Congress retains Karnataka, credit should go to incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, though the Congress president’s cronies will certainly seek to appropriate the glory for the party chief — as they did in the case of Punjab which the party won on the strength of Captain Amarinder Singh and not Rahul Gandhi. But if the Congress loses in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi’s self-professed prime ministerial ambition will come crashing down.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and public affairs analyst)