On Friday afternoon, while parking my car in a still Congress-ruled Delhi, I banged my car badly enough for the bumper in the front to almost come off. It was my fault as I had failed to notice the looming footpath in front and had been busy trying to measure up my car with the two others parked on either side. Two days later, with my bumper still hanging precariously like some hung assembly, I sorely wished I was Rahul Gandhi. It would have then been the pavement’s fault.
Despite my intense jealousy of Gandhi and the predicament he finds himself in while dealing with this world, I can’t help feeling bad for him now. There he is, since the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, trying to bring about a wholesale transformation in a party dancing around the maypole of a private family-owned enterprise, but (much like The Hindu newspaper) finding the route to “professionalism” a Sisyphean task.
After the car crash the Congress suffered last week in four states, the khansamas have been going blue in the face trying to deflect any responsibility for the electoral defeats from Gandhi. The truly remarkable Rajiv Shukla told journalists with the straightest face that the face could possibly muster that “it’s up to Rahul Gandhi-ji to decide” whether he wants to be the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate. “It has been the failure of our organisation, not Rahul-ji’s”, he added, just to let us know where he stood in case Gandhi decided to quit and join the Aam Aadmi Party.
And I would have paid the amount that the Bharatiya Janata Party has announced it will forego for “horsetrading” expenses in Delhi to have not been Jayanti Natarajan on various news channels on Sunday. The number of times she chose not to deflect the question of whether Rahul Gandhi had been a super-flop, instead choosing to proselytise like a nose-pinned John the Baptist the coming of the Congress Christ after the crucifixion was a display of loyalty that made the most anti-dynasty lot sob loudly.
But there is a logic to the khansama’s slavish loyalty that most of us not endowed with the power of a literally catchy surname forget. It stems solely from the desire to protect the institution in which they themselves have found years of solace, not to mention power. When Sheila Dikshit in Delhi is being fed to the dogs after a stint of 15 years where the only gargantuan mistake she made was to be chief minister of the same city-state that the Congress leadership and the UPA government operates from, Congress leaders know which side of the bread is buttered — and continues to need buttering.
Sunday’s poll results coverage on news channels was a good way to ascertain how this business of “apportioning blame” works in the Congress. In Chattisgarh, when trends were still showing a neck-and-neck battle with the BJP, the Congress’ leadership in Delhi’s strategy of getting former chief minister Ajit Jogi to distribute assembly tickets in the state was cited by Congress spokespersons as a classic example of how 24 Akbar Road understood the importance of empowering the right persons in the states. By the time final results were in, the same spokespersons were being categorical about how the state units were to be judged for defeats in state elections, where neither the Congress-led UPA government nor the powers-that-be in Delhi should come into the picture.
This kind of distancing from the various Ground Zeros, and unwillingness to admit after defeat the inability to read ground realities, would have understandably taken on a more philosophical air if there weren’t general elections round the corner.But now, regardless of whether it’s true or not (and that can only be determined by asking those who voted against the Congress), the Congress leadership is terrified of the national electorate tracing the defeats in Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh,back to HQ. And more terrifyingly of the effect that Narendra Modi may have on the same nationwide electorate who could see the assembly elections as a ready reckoner.
Thus, the existential banging on and on about two things: Rahul Gandhi is not to blame for what has happened; and much more importantly, Narendra Modi is not responsible for what has happened. The whole anthill mob’s job is now to set up Gandhi — all over again! — as a Harry Potter in the run-up to the 2014 elections. The thing is, right now, it seems like it’s going to be a “Beatrix Potter vs Lord Voldemort” nationwide bout with those “good things that the UPA did” going even farther into the backdrop.
If it was anyone else, the Congress could have created a better firewall between the concluded assembly elections that it wants the nation to now forget and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Unfortunately, the dilemma is that it was Gandhi who was seen to take on the biggest job this time in all the states — whether by rolling up his sleeves in Congress rallies and transliterating Paulo Coelho lines, or by entrusting his deputies to be in charge of ticket distribution. Not the last-minute Ajit Jogi in Chhatisgarh, not the last-second Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh, not Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, and certainly not poor Sheila Dikshit in Delhi where there are too many city-slickers for Gandhi’s liking.
To name Rahul Gandhi now as the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate would be a disaster (as big as the Congress president announcing herself as the prime ministerial candidate would be an antidote, if not quite a coup). In response to the Congress’ many khansamas and khansama tradition that I’m sure Gandhi is uncomfortable with, he should echo Scindia’s line about his having to be “the first neck on line”. If he had any other surname, Gandhi could have had the comfort now of recuperating in a hole to fight another day. Instead, the poor, poor chap has been forced by the voices inside and outside his head to state, “I think AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) has involved a lot of people, which the traditional parties did not…. We will involve people in a way you cannot even imagine right now”. You bet my busted car bumper I can’t.