In the wake of the severe drubbing the Congress has received, Rahul Gandhi’s threat to wield the stick has made partymen angry, but so far the reaction is muted
As the nation braces for its next general elections slated for May next, there are pointers that have emerged from the recent elections to state assemblies in five states that cannot be missed.
The most noticeable indicator is the decline of the Congress, which was mauled in three of the five states that went to polls recently, namely, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, was pipped in Chhattisgarh and only emerged triumphant in the electorally-insignificant state of Mizoram which sends just one member to the Lok Sabha.
The vice-president of the party and heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi, proved to be a major disappointment, failing to capitalise on opportunities. Without a word of remorse and acknowledgement of his own failures, Rahul has come out with a statement that it is time for tough measures in the Congress Party and that he would wield the stick. There is anger in the party over his statement as well as his power without responsibility, but so far it is only in muted tones.
The second strand that has emerged from the state polls which many pollsters described as the ‘semi-final’ is the emergence of Narendra Modi as a force to reckon with. As the party’s prime ministerial nominee, Modi came through as a prime motivator of the party cadres and as a man who swayed the masses wherever he addressed rallies. His charisma is without doubt and his no-holds-barred attack on the Manmohan Singh government on its various acts of omission and commission is making an impact on voters in varying degrees.
It would not be easy for Modi to satisfy the unrealistic expectations that he is raising but before he comes to the stage where he wields power, he has many bridges to cross. That is going to be no mean task. So far he has largely been finding fault with the existing dispensation, but soon he will have to come up with solutions which he would then be expected to implement if he comes to power.
Another significant highlight of the assembly elections was the meteoric rise of that relentless crusader against corruption, Arvind Kejriwal, who confounded pollsters with a spectacular showing in the country’s capital, where his Aam Aadmi Party missed by a whisker the position of the largest party and in the bargain contributed handsomely to the virtual decimation of the Congress in Delhi.
The party’s refusal to form a coalition with either the Congress or the BJP, making it inevitable that fresh elections be held, has partially taken the sheen off its tall promises in the run-up to the assembly polls. Many see this as a ploy to escape responsibility.
That even before the results of the elections were announced, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy of the Congress had fired the first salvo at his party’s leadership by openly declaring that the decision of the Congress Working Committee to carve out a separate Telangana state would be opposed and defeated in the Andhra Assembly is a pointer that the authority of the party ‘high command’ is no longer inviolable. This could well be a precursor to more such acts of defiance.
Already, members of Parliament from Seemandhra are up in arms. They are spearheading a campaign to express disenchantment with the UPA government through a no-confidence motion that would not only embarrass the party greatly but also ultimately lead to their breaking all links with the Congress.
This in a party in which sycophancy has touched astronomical proportions and party president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul are treated with unseemly deference, is a pointer to the onset of slowly changing tides.
Congress ally Nationalist Congress Party’s leader Sharad Pawar’s broadside at the Congress accusing it of having a ‘weak leadership leading to the rise of pseudo-activists’ hours after the party got a drubbing in the assembly polls was also indicative of the audacity of a major ally to challenge the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Congressmen are talking in hushed tones of how Rahul has proved a disaster as a vote-catcher and how the high command needs to take stock of this hard reality.
All this may have had lesser importance but for the fact that the general elections are a bare four or five months away.
It may be premature to write the epitaph of the Congress Party but that even the wily and well-informed US government and the credit rating agencies that perpetually keep their antennas up are now increasingly betting on a BJP victory is not without significance.
It is indeed inconceivable that Sonia Gandhi would give up the mantle of the Congress Party’s supreme leader. That she may have second thoughts about whether this is the right time to foist Rahul Gandhi as the party’s prime ministerial nominee is quite another matter. Seeing the writing on the wall, she could opt for another nominee for now, hoping that with age being on Rahul’s side, he could assume the reins sometime later when the time is propitious and a future government is turning unpopular.
As of now, Rahul has seemed ill-equipped to make a success of politics. He has never spoken with any depth on any national and international issues and if power is served to him on a platter with a sycophantic party in tow, he would be subjected to the kind of scrutiny that would further expose him.
For the BJP, the recent elections have kindled hopes that the party may manage to push the Congress out of power after the 2014 elections and that the Modi factor may work strongly in its favour. How it would actually pan out is, however, difficult to speculate on.
The BJP’s prime problem continues to be its difficulty in finding allies. While the recent electoral victories may have set some fence-sitters thinking, there is still no evidence that the parties that are wary of its anti-Muslim credentials would gravitate towards it.