Though there was not much to “celebrate,” the Congress celebrated its 130th Foundation Day on Sunday. Sometimes tradition demands you just have to keep a stiff upper lip and go through the motions. Except if you are Rahul Gandhi. Then apparently you don’t even need to do that.
While Sonia Gandhi unfurled the party flag, Rahul was missing in inaction. Was Rahul unwell? Out of the country? Did he forget to set his alarm clock? “None of the leaders could explain the reason for Rahul’s absence,” reports the Indian Express.
As Rajdeep Sardesai observes caustically in his India Today piece about Narendra Modi as the Newsmaker of 2014, that it can be said of Rahul that “he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” That’s been Rahul’s signature move. During the furore after 2012 Delhi gang-rape, when he could have built his angry young citizen credentials, Rahul was nowhere to be found. He became the butt of aslogan instead – Saare yuva yahan hain, Rahul Gandhi kahan hai? (All the youngsters are here, where is Rahul Gandhi?)
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. PTI
Rahul’s problem is not that he lost an election. In elections someone wins, someone loses. What’s more devastating for the Congress is Rahul seems to have lost his way and is taking his party with it. The grand old party is continuing to shrink its way to the bottom, taking cold comfort in places like Jammu and Kashmir because the results were not as spectacularly bad as they could have been. It’s a party in search of a face saver these days and it is saddled with Rahul Gandhi who is not even around to provide that.
Here are the five key moments when Rahul Gandhi failed his party in 2014 in ways beyond leading it to an embarrassing 44 seats in the Lok Sabha.
When Rahul picked his metaphors Time Magazine once called Rahul Gandhi “long on metaphors, short on solutions.” The elephant, the beehive, the poisoned chalice, escape velocity, politics in your pant, poverty as a state of mind have all been glimpses into the mind of Rahul Gandhi and each one has left Indians more confused than before. In 2013 after listening to his speech at CII, Time’s Krista Mahr was struck by his plethora of platitudes cloaked in meandering metaphors:
Riffing off John F. Kennedy’s line that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” Gandhi said: “A rising tide doesn’t raise people who don’t have a boat. We have to help build the boat for them. It’s not good enough to raise the tide. We have to give them the basic infrastructure to rise with the tide.” It didn’t end there. A few minutes later, when talking about women in his constituency, he went on to say: “They told me they have no boats … They are not only building our boats, they are the waves.”
No wonder every Rahul speech on the 2014 campaign trail was keenly anticipated not for its heft or fire or vision but just for the entertainment of the spectacularly misfired metaphor.
When Rahul chose to stay anti-social In an election where young voters and first-time voters played a key role, Rahul, two decades younger than Narendra Modi, demonstrated he had little youth connect. As a CSDS poll showed, 42 percent of Indians in the age group 18-25 preferred Modi as their PM compared to 16 percent who preferred Rahul. While Modi wielded social media like a pro, even Instagramming these days, Rahul does not even have a Facebook or a Twitter account further reinforcing the image of a man who remains willfully out of touch. Rahul is photogenic and handsome but flops on television while Modi revels in it.
When Rahul spoke to Arnab With great fanfare Rahul decided to give the big interview to the hectoring Arnab Goswami to show to the world that he had real cojones. It flopped even though Goswami held his fire. The New York Times said ““Mr. Gandhi fumbled, stared with a blank expression and a tilted head and looked wounded at times.” The Indian Express listed eleven instances where he could have given better answers. And in most of them, when he was not being obtusely repetitive, he chose to talk about himself in the third person.
When Rahul didn’t come to dinner Say what you will about his legacy, Manmohan Singhlasted 10 years at the helm of the UPA. He deserved a dignified send-off. But while Sonia Gandhi presided over the farewell dinner, Rahul was a no show. “When (Rahul) is done, he goes back to his foreign home,” snickeredthe Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut. His absence was even more glaring given that the same Rahul had not that long ago publicly torn up an ordnance Manmohan Singh had signed. Rahul made no excuses, it was left to his red-faced party to mumble about vague “personal work”. “I feel there is no accountability in the party,” Rahul said as the Congress introspected after the election results were out, not realizing that accountability begins at home. Like showing up for dinner even when you don’t feel like it.
When Rahul smiled Rahul Gandhi’s nadir came not when the Congress lost but when he finally stepped forward, with his mother, in front of the cameras to accept that loss. A moment that should have been grim became all about grin instead as he beamed at the cameras.Faking News quipped that WhatsApp would introduce his mysterious grin as their latest smiley to be used to convey a SNAFU moment – Situation Normal All Fucked Up. “It was as if he was celebrating victory, not mourning Congress’ biggest rout in history,” wrote Abheek Barman in ET.
Perhaps he was thinking exactly reasoned some indefatigable well-wishers. “Now that the polls are over, he will completely unleash his plans,” a Congress source told the Mumbai Mirror. But after a flurry of media reports on how the Congress was going into reboot-and-rethink mode post the 2014 elections, the latest reports suggest that the Rahul reforms are being quietly buried by the Grand Old Party. CL Manoj writes in The Economic Timesthat Rahul’s pitch for “transparent party organizational elections through internal ballots” has been replaced by old-fashioned “maximum possible consensus.” The party has also done away with his push for holding primaries to select candidates and framing the party manifesto via street meetings. After electoral debacle after debacle, the party seems to have decided to focus on holding its beleaguered membership together instead of getting into bruising Old-guard vs New-guard battles.
Or is this the only way the Congress can quietly jettison the dead weight of its lightweight heir apparent despite the public protestations and prostrations of undying loyalty to the Gandhis?
Actually it does not seem that difficult to bypass Rahul. Rahul Gandhi has pushed for reform but never led that charge or stayed the course. Unlike a Narendra Modi who ruthlessly bent the BJP to his will and sidelined older stubborn leaders and challengers like a Sushma Swaraj, Rahul’s leadership style has always been fitful like a flickering tubelight. And that allows the entrenched Congressnetas to also drift back to business as usual because they can be sure that sooner or later Rahul-baba will go AWOL.
That does not mean they have a recipe to revive the Congress either with or without the Gandhis. Just as the BJP is on a winning streak, the Congress is on a losing streak, as state elections have demonstrated. No one wants to back a losing horse, even those nervous about handing the country over to one party’s whims.
But as Modi pushes for a Congress-muktBharat, the best New Year gift the Congress can hope for, as it licks it wounds at the end of 2014, is a Rahul-mukt Congress. 10 out of 7 Congressmen might even agree.