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IS IT R.I.P. 4 R&P?

Chhotebhai Chhotebhai
11 Dec 2023

Exactly five years ago, in December 2018, I wrote a piece, “Pappu Can Dance Wallah”. It was inspired by the 2008 Bollywood song “Pappu Can’t Dance S***a” from the movie “Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Naa” starring Genelia Deshmukh (nee D’souza). For years Rahul Gandhi (RG) had been disparagingly referred to as Pappu (simpleton).

However, the Pappu epithet was discarded when he led his party to victory in three out of five State assembly elections in 2018. Political commentator Ashutosh noted that it was time we said goodbye to the past, “R.I.P. Pappu”. Raj Thackeray went one step further to say that now Pappu meant “Param Pujya” (most respected). That is why I wrote that Pappu could now dance. 

As events unfold, we, all writers and critics, must revise our opinions. After the Congress’ parliamentary poll debacle in May 2014, I wrote “Why Rahul Gandhi Should Quit?” as he led the charge. Someone had to take the flak. As Caiphas, the High Priest, had said of Jesus, “Don’t you realise that it is for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50). Somebody had to be the sacrificial lamb. Therefore, I suggested that RG take a two-year sabbatical outside the country, meet up with his then-girlfriend, and get married. He would be out of the hair of the Congress, who could then look for another heir to the throne. 

In 2009, columnist Shobha De described RG as a dimpled darling because of his fresh and innocent looks. I saw the media coverage of his road shows that had attracted huge crowds. When his attraction could not attract votes, I said the dimples now looked like pimples!

I was never enamoured of RG. He was a child of privilege (sahabzaade), not a street-smart man of the people. His language and thought processes were pathetic. In one of his speeches, he claimed that people experiencing poverty need a “farsh”, which means floor. What he probably meant was that they needed a platform. He also said poverty was a “soch” (thought). Again, he probably wished to communicate that it was a state of mind. I give these classic examples to highlight his inadequacy of language. In contrast, Naveen Patnaik, who has been Chief Minister of Orissa State since … (How long ago was that?), cannot speak his native Odiya language. Yet he is an excellent communicator, as evidenced by repeated electoral victories.

RG’s choice of words is equally pathetic. He harped on “sashaktikaran” (women’s empowerment) in 2014. It became the stuff of all kinds of pokes and jokes. Ironically, today, all the parties have been wooing women voters. The pollsters did their arithmetic, factoring in the woman voter and her predilections.  

In 2019, RG again miscalculated by harping on the Rafale deal and asking the crowds to repeat, “Chowkidar chor hai”. It backfired. He faced criminal charges for making fun of the Modi surname. But he didn’t learn any lessons. This year, he fell into the Panauti (ill omen) trap, post India’s World Cup ODI loss in Modi’s presence at the stadium named after him. Whenever he attacks Modi personally, the latter has converted adversity into opportunity. 

Though RG officially resigned from his party's presidency, he still appears to be the de facto numero uno. At meetings, he is seated at the father’s (oops … the President, Mallikarjun Kharge’s) right hand. So, he has to take the primary responsibility for his party’s debacle. If he forgets, it will be like Atlas shrugging, causing a significant earthquake in his party.

Nevertheless, it would not be fair to blame everything on him. The Congress’ demise began much before 2014. I would put it around 2012 when a new President of the Republic had to be chosen. I had then proposed to Sonia Gandhi and her son that they elevate the sagacious but ageing Manmohan Singh as the President and make Pranab Mukherjee the Prime Minister. This was anathema to the Gandhis as they felt insecure with an intelligent and independent mind like Mukherjee’s. They made the cardinal error of making him the President.

Mukherjee was the party’s best floor manager in the Lok Sabha and had a good rapport with various opposition leaders. He was replaced by Kamal Nath, who had no answer to Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and the Nirbhaya case. That set the tone for the party’s debacle in 2014, a body blow from which it is yet to recover. (After writing this, I read about Sharmista, Mukherjee’s daughter and former Congress spokesperson, and her forthcoming book “In Pranab, My Father: A Daughter Remembers”. She avers that her father told her in no uncertain terms that Sonia would never make him the Prime Minister).

Coming to 2023, I followed various opinion polls in the run-up to the elections, followed by the exit polls on the evening of 30th November. I followed this since the India Today-Axis Survey claimed a 94% strike rate. Below is a chart of the exit poll figures and the actual outcome.

S. No

State

Party

Exit Poll

Seats Won

1

Rajasthan

BJP

80-100

115

 

 

Congress

86-106

69

2

Madhya Pradesh

BJP

140-162

163

 

 

Congress

68-90

66

3

Chhatisgarh

BJP

36-46

54

 

 

Congress

40-50

35

4

Telengana

BJP

4-8

8

 

 

Congress

63-73

64

 

 

BRS

34-44

39

5

Mizoram

BJP

NA

2

 

 

Congress

2-4

1

 

 

ZPM

28-35

27

 

 

MNF

3-7

10

The figures with clear mandates were spot on for M.P., Telangana and Mizoram. However, in the tight races in Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh, the Congress was given an edge but slung mud on its face. Rajdeep Sardesai kept saying that his poll was wrong and that Rajasthan would go to the BJP. His gut feeling prevailed over the pollsters. Pradeep Gupta of Axis claimed that his prognosis was based on the benefits that Congress had given women so that a higher percentage would vote for it. It didn’t work. The post-mortem for Chhatisgarh showed that the tribals swung en masse from the Congress to the BJP. Was this because Narendra Modi made a staggering announcement for their benefit in neighbouring Jharkhand, just a few days before the polls, at a commemoration for tribal icon Birsa Munda?

There could be other reasons that played on the psyche of the voters. In Rajasthan, the BJP repeatedly raked up the killing of a Hindu tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, by so-called Islamic terrorists. In Chhattisgarh, they raised the bogey of tribal conversions to Christianity. Communal polarisation is the BJP’s trump card that never fails to ace the opposition.  

Others have blamed the Electronic Voting Machines for the drastic change from the exit polls. But that doesn’t account for 12 ministers from Shivraj Singh’s cabinet losing in M.P. That included hot head Narottam Misra, who wanted Shahrukh Khan’s movie “Pathan” banned because of Deepika Padukone’s saffron bikini.

For those who have written off the Congress, there is a silver lining from the Election Commission of India. The Congress polled more votes in these 5 States than the BJP. The former got 4,92,24,000 to the latter’s 4,81,68,687, a difference of 10,55,313. Even in Mizoram, where the Congress won just one seat to the BJP’s two, the former garnered 1,46,113 (20.82%) votes, while the latter got just 35,524 (5.06%). Though the BJP got twice the number of seats, the Congress got four times the number of votes. 

Is there not a lesson for the Congress in these figures? They must go back to the drawing board and figure this out. Are they spreading themselves out too thin instead of focusing on fewer seats? They also need to anticipate what their opponent is planning, which is part of the election strategy.

What happened to the I.N.D.I.A. block? It was foolish of the Congress to fight its alliance partners in the States and claim to collaborate with them for the parliamentary elections. Voters are not fools. They can read between the lines. This was the time to invite empathetic leaders like Mamata Banerji, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, Hemant Soren, M.K. Stalin, Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Akhilesh Yadav. Had they organised even one joint meeting in the 5 State capitals, it would have sent the electorate a strong message of unity of purpose. Kanhaiya Kumar is probably the best Hindi orator in the Congress. He was not to be seen. 

It is often claimed that the Gandhi family is the party's binding glue, or it will become unstuck. The facts are to the contrary. Many young and old leaders have quit the party in the Gandhi era. Some have formed their parties and become chief ministers in their own right, including Mamata, Jagan Reddy, Sharad Pawar, Conrad Sangma, and Lalduhoma, the latest entrant.

Others have joined the BJP or other parties – Capt Amarinder Singh, Gulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasad, Jaiveer Shergill, Priyanka Chaturvedi etc. 

Are the Gandhis then the glue or the panauti? When confronted with RG’s incompetence and incoherence, some of Andh Bhakt’s eyes light up at the mention of his sister Priyanka. Can the Congress not look beyond Rahul and Priyanka (R&P)? It is unfair to write off somebody publicly, especially when they are down. Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall. If the Congress wants to give Modi a run for his (or electoral bond) money, it must jettison its excess baggage. This is why I repeat, “Is it R.I.P. 4 R&P”

The writer is a political activist who does not owe allegiance to any political party.

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