Rajdeep Sardesai asked, "If Rahul Gandhi loses from Amethi, should the Congress reconsider its leadership strategy?" Ramachandra Guha, in his trademark fashion, said, ‘Even if he wins, Rahul Gandhi should not be the leader of Congress because he was the face of Congress in this election and this rout is a reflection of his leadership."
However, as BJP inched closer towards absolute majority, the news channels showed people with placards saying "Waqt ki pukar, Priyanka Gandhi". This throws up a question if Congress is clutching at straws or is so parochial that the party just cannot see beyond the family. Congress and Rahul Gandhi were criticised for not putting up a presidential candidate like the BJP did because the strategy of not doing so was ‘outdated’. The Congress defended the strategy by saying that governing a country is a collective effort and not a one-man show.
While I agree with this stance, the problem is that the incumbency collectively took the country to the dogs. The strategy might not have been outdated, but the party has definitely been. And to turn the argument around, there is not even an iota of a chance that the Congress would have fared better had they put up a candidate. At the end of the day, the track record of the Congress, especially during UPA-II, dug the grave for the Congress. Not merely the frauds, corruption and inflation, it was the arrogance of power which got to its head. If one recollects the scornful disregard of Congress towards Anna Hazare in 2011, it would manifest the kind of hubris the Congress suffered from.
Mani Shankar Aiyyar’s classist remark about Narendra Modi could also be added to the list. Their ally in Maharashtra, NCP, seemed to be competing with the Congress in this regard. Ajit Pawar had made a despicable remark about Bhaiyya Deshmukh, a farmer from a drought-hit area in Solapur, who was on a hunger strike at Mumbai. “He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible," Pawar had said, taking the insensitive legacy of his uncle to a different level.
While Rahul Gandhi should be held accountable for this embarrassment, the contribution of his colleagues should not be underestimated. However, it would be premature to write the obituary of India’s oldest party as we have seen it in the past that the party has been able to bounce back. It did in 1980 after Janata Party collapsed, it did after VP Singh’s movement, and it also did in 2004. But as the decimation has been a collective effort, the revival will also need to be a collective effort. After this humiliating defeat, Congress will have to introspect. The party must look beyond the family cult.
Moreover, Priyanka Gandhi carries the baggage of Robert Vadra, much like Morarji Desai carried one of his son, Kantibhai and Indira Gandhi carried one of Sanjay Gandhi. Plus, what are Priyanka Gandhi’s own credentials to lead the revival? Tomorrow, if she decided to write a CV, what would be the contents apart from being Sonia’s daughter? When she campaigned in Amethi and Rae Bareli, it was the first time she partook in the process. In this context, if she is looked upon or insinuated as the new face of the party, then it would be fair to say that Congress’ cupboard of indigenous leaders is explicitly empty.