The coronation of Rahul Gandhi, scion of Nehru – Gandhi family, as president of Indian National Congress couldn't have come at a more crucial and critical time than it did. In a way, it was a foregone conclusion. Since long, the entire Congress carder including senior rung leaders had not only been pestering but also largely pampering him to assume the responsibility. For obvious reasons, he kept on parrying for sometime showing some hesitation and inhibitions in taking the mantle. Ultimately, mom may have prevailed upon the son to take on the bull by its horns. Many chicken hearted political pundits in and outside the party kept their fingers crossed over his potential and mettle to handle so big a job. Many seasoned politicians in the ruling party would even taunt him publicly and in the media. Few electoral defeats in a row did lend some credence to their pronouncements and premonitions.
Probably, this had enough ammunition in it to provoke him into wearing the "crown of thorns". One watched with an abated breath when he decided to jump into the fray in just concluded Gujarat hustings. Brushing aside electoral debacles, he didn't pause even for a while before jumping into the ocean all by himself. Being Modi's main bastion and Amit Shah's citadel, BJP rank and file talked loud and categorical to literally decimate Congress in Gujarat. Pressing all men, material and machinery into operation, they left no stone unturned to achieve the mission. Any other person in Rahul's shoes did have a reason to feel low and dejected. On the contrary, he rode high with full gusto to take on the lion in its own territory. He deserves all applause for giving a valiant fight to the best of BJP's war lords and trojan horses. The BJP didn't dither from invoking Gujarati's emotions and passions including "son of the soil" appeal. Winning by a slender margin is no big a deal for a party which has been ruling the roost over more than two decades in Gujarat and this time with Prime Minister of India for whom Gujarat is his "own karam bhumi" spearheading and strategizing the campaign personally from day one to the last minute. Unfazed, Rahul gave a nail biting fight till last. Had the Congress think tank been a little more astute, tactful and manipulative in handling its prospective allies and even independents, they could have dented a few more constituencies in their favor to form the government. The lesson should serve them well in formulating their future strategies.
The much hyped "Gujarat Model" and "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas" remained in limbo. Very skillfully indeed, Rahul Gandhi deflated this tall claim to the shock of every keen watcher. Just a few highways, flyovers and presence of multiple airports and ports does not usher in economic growth by themselves. The process of wholesome development has to cast its net wide enough to rope in all strata of society irrespective of their caste, creed, region and religion. The divisive politics practiced by the successive governments in Gujarat has sharpened the rural urban and communal divide deeply. The haves and have nots stand poles apart. The wide gulf between the two has also cost BJP very heavily to the advantage of Congress. Even the Unjha assembly constituency of which Vadnagar – PM's home town is a part, was wrested by Congress from BJP. Very adroitly, Rahul could not only galvanize the rural population convincingly but also connect with them personally. Video clippings on media revealed how these people felt elated in having him in their midst. This one to one connect translated into his victory in these areas. Gauging by his popularity and personal rapport one can safely say that it was by far his best election campaign. Without taking any crutches, he fought single handedly. He may not have formed the government in Gujarat but certainly led his party from the front. This assumes added significance knowing that his opponent was none other than Narendar Modi, the Prime Minister of India, the most charismatic leader of the time, crowd puller and ace communicator who is just a tweet away to anybody. Hardly has any PM been so easily available and accessible to anybody living in the remotest part of the country.
Results apart, both parties need to brood and ponder over their performance. It is a mixed bag of successes and failures. Without being complacent over successes, failures and deficiencies need to be addressed. It is particularly pertinent for Congress president who has to establish his credentials as a top notch leader of his party. The party also needs to shed away "caucus culture' and sycophancy. These negative traits have eaten into its vitals. It is high time to become more transparent, democratic and open its arms to a common man. The norm of single party rule is gradually evaporating. Coalition culture is spreading over the spectrum. Vajpayee's successful stint was by and large due to his skilfully well knit alliance having respect and space for each other.
(The author is Ex Deputy Director General Doordarshan)