Rahul must go Or Congress must die

Rahul_GandhiAfter the 2019 General Election, Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan made a statement that “Congress must die”. But after what happened in Maharastra, I think the option should be “Rahul must go or Congress must die”. The opposition in India has been too fractured and that is the prime reason for the landslide win by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the parliamentary elections. It is not because the BJP government has done an exceedingly good job in the last 5 years. It is just that Rahul Gandhi as President of Indian National Congress (INC), the largest opposition party, is not able to inspire confidence in other members of the opposition.

In the run up to the general elections Narendra Modi offered himself at the head of a ‘majboot sarkar’ (a decisive and robust governing arrangement that will deliver). Not since 1980, when the INC sought votes in Indira Gandhi’s name, had a political party given primacy to an individual leader and his presumed transformational leadership, over and above any other calculus. And it worked well for the BJP. Even during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era the BJP was reluctant to project one leader.

Unlike 2014 General Election, there was no coyness on the BJP’s part in 2019 General Election. On offer was Modi, garnished and adorned with over-stated accomplishments and qualities; throughout the campaign, he remained unflinching in his malicious rudeness, and never once felt embarrassed at the inflated self-promotion. The country was told that he was a leader, omnipotent and omnipresent, wise and clever, strategist and tactician, a honest, hard-working commoner, an uncompromising nationalist, a Hindu to the core, who would defend Mother India against enemies, external and internal. It was a complete marketing package. INC, the grand old party didn’t have any strategy to counter this Presidential style campaign like in the USA. The INC didn’t have a counter narrative to BJP’s hyper nationalism and smart alliance formation either.

The INC couldn’t counter the BJP’s hyper nationalism in spite of intensified cross border terrorism since 2014, after the advent of the Modi regime and two major attacks on military bases – Pathankote and Uri. It was very clear to everyone including the Pakistan Military establishment that Modi regime’s Pakistan policy was just tall talk and absurd impromptu diplomacy like exchanging sari and baskets of mangoes with Nawaz Sharif. It looked like the bunch of novices heading the security establishment, had not realised that the Pakistan Military establishment are ruthless and relentless in their dedication to destroy India. After its humiliating defeat in the 1971 War and subsequent bifurcation of West Pakistan to Bangladesh, ISI’s stated tactics with India has been “death by a thousand cuts”.

After January 2, 2016 Pathankote attack, India government had shamelessly invited ISI, which masterminded the attack, to inspect the high security and highly sensitive airbase. Did we question the governments judgement in inviting ISI? No. In the September 18, 2016 Uri attack, the majority of soldiers didn’t die of bullets, but by a fire. Why fire? Because soldiers were put up in makeshift tents. Did any heads roll? No. Was any accountability fixed in either cases of intelligence failure? No. The INC and entire opposition let the Pathankote and Uri incident pass.

And in the middle of 2019 General Election campaign the INC was  also stunned by the Balakot spin, that Modi – Shah engineered after the clear security failure in Pulvama, where 40 security men died in the IED blast. The government initial response was not to politicise the attack but the BJP openly used the attack to garner votes. In the process the INC and opposition failed to question the BJP Government how did such a large cache of explosives reach the Pulwama district of South Kashmir? Were the explosives smuggled across the border? Were the explosives procured internally? Why was the security men travelling in convoy of 78 vehicles? Were there lapses in the standard operating procedure for troop movement? The Jammu-Srinagar highway having been shut down for two days for civilan traffic, then how did the suicide bomber reach the convoy?

The suicide bomber Aadil Ahmed, was a local Kashmiri youth from Pulwama, recruited by the Pakistan based militants. Did the security forces have an elaborate intelligence gathering mechanism to track the activity of such recruits? There were reports of Afghan war veteran and IED specialist Abdul Rasheed Ghazi infiltrated into the Kashmir valley in December last year. What is the likely number of such highly trained fighters active now in the valley? Why are these infiltrations not being curbed on the Line of Control? An intelligence note, which is now in public circulation, suggests that all branches of the CRPF, the BSF, the Indian Army, the CISF, the ITBP and the Jammu and Kashmir Police were warned of a large scale attack. What precautions were taken? The Governor of J&K did admit of security lapse and it is most welcome. But can the individuals involved in the key decision-making at the highest level of the State and Central Government continue to hold the charge?

On February 26, 2019 India conducted a Surgical Strike on Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists camps in Balakote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. (General Election were to be held in 7 phases between April 11 to May 19, 2019). The Indian warplanes crossed the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir, and dropped bombs in the vicinity of the town of Balakote. While the Pakistan Army denied the airstrike, Indian side did not give any specific number of militant causalities in the airstrike. BJP President Amit Shah came up with exaggerated claims of 250-300 militants causalities in the Balakote airstrike and Union Minister V K Singh backed the Party Chief on this. The day after the Balakote air strike Pakistan retaliated. In the ensuing aerial dogfight we lost a MIG and our pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan. We also shot down our own Mi-17 Chopper, killing 6 IAF personal, when our SPYDER air defence missile hit the chopper over Budgaman (Army also released the report in October 2019 after elections were completed).

The fact that PM and BJP was openly seeking votes in the name of Pulvama martyrs, while the Election Commission looked the other way, showed that Pakistan’s assessment was correct. But we, the people of India will never know the whole truth on Pathankote, Uri, Pulvama or Balakote. Internationally though India portrayed its action in Balakote as a successful attempt at creating new space in a limited war policy. Pakistan on the other hand depicted India’s action as purely driven by political needs and Imran Khan positioned himself as “mature”.

These are the narratives to be fought, but INC has failed miserably. Their Rafale allegations didn’t stick. The government used the Supreme Court and Justice Gogoi, who was embroiled in a sex scandal, to shut the opposition. While there is no doubt in any ones mind on the superiority of the Rafale aircraft, the government could not successfully justify why the enhanced cost of the aircraft? What are the India specific enhancement to the Rafale aircraft? If there was any procedural wrongdoing? Why HAL was removed from as offset partner and a 10 day old company Reliance Defence Ltd given the contract? On whether the Cabinet Committee on Security had authorised the reduction  in number (brought down from 132 to 36) of aircrafts? Why was Make-In-India abandoned? The governments only answer was to take the National Security route and provide evidence to Supreme Court in form of an affidavit in a “sealed cover”. When it was revealed that the Government had lied in the affidavit to Supreme Court the government made a farcical ‘factual correction’.

But it was mainly Rahul leading the charge on Rafale. The INC don’t have second level leaders, who are on the ground level to fight the narrative of the BJP on Rafale. True that the media, who are no longer politically free and imprisoned by profit questioned only the opposition but not the government. Everyone wants a pie of the Rs. 1000 to 1500 being spend annually.  But the INC failed in even the social media strategy. The energy that Divya Spandana or Ramya was also killed by Rahul’s incompetence and indecisiveness.

The INC also failed to stitch together smart alliances. The INC leadership were complacent in Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP and Chhatisgarh where they fought BJP well during the assembly elections. In Maharastra during alliance seat discussions, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party was insisting that Raj Thackeray-led Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MNS) should be taken on board. INC rejected the idea, arguing that ideologically MNS does not fit into its scheme of things. However, when MNS chief Raj Thackeray started addressing rallies here he attacked Modi-Shah duo, INC welcomed it openly.

Similarly, Prakash Ambedkar who heads the Vanchit Bahujan Agadhi kept repeatedly saying that he would have discussions only with Rahul Gandhi and not with any other state leader. Rahul never gave him an appointment. Also after the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the INC has not found an effective leader, and is dependent on leaders like Ashok Chavan and Pratviraj Chavan who don’t see eye to eye.

In UP Rahul failed to muster an alliance with Mahagadbandan of Bahujan Samajwati Party (BSP) and Samajawati Party (SP). In Delhi, heeding to the advice of Sheila Dikshit, Rahul again didn’t respond to Arvind Kejriwals’s overtures for s seat sharing arrangement. In Karnataka both Janata Dal Secular (JDS) and INC messed up on candidate selection. JDS had the whole Deva Gowda clan standing from different constituencies. Same was the case with Bihar with Lalu Yadav clan.

Only saving grace for the INC was Punjab, TN and Kerala. In Punjab it was more thanks to Captain Amrinder Singh. Also the minority Sikhs abandoning Shiromani Akali Dal – BJP alliance on the face of its hard Hindutva can’t be ruled out. In TN it was more because of the smart alliance INC could stitch together with Dravida Munnetra Kazagam. In Kerala INC was lucky to ride on the anti LDF sentiment after the Shabarimala temple row. But there too Rahul missed the political optics by contesting in Wayanad, Kerala. The President of INC fighting the BJP should have contested in Karnataka or Maharastra instead of safe seat of Wayanad. It showed his political immaturity.

So on final tally we have the INC growing from 44 MPs in 2014 to 52 MPs in Parliament after the 2019 General Election. And this growth in number of MPs has nothing to do with Rahul Gandhi. It is high time the CWC realises this and the INC grows out of the dynasty. Leaders like Sashi Tharoor, Rahul Gandhi, Jathiraditya Scindia are good, but you need crookedness of leaders like Sidharamiah and D. K. Sivakumar, who really ensured “Operation Lotus” didn’t succeed in Karnataka, to fight the BJP.

Let me give you an example: Yediyurappa was the Karnataka CM who was declared “the most corrupt CM” by the Karnataka Lokaykta Court and was sent to jail. But he is currently the BJP Vice President and yet the narrative is that BJP is fighting corruption. Yeddiyurappa resigned from his MP seat to contest in the last assembly elections. But after loss in Karnataka the EC helped him retain his membership of parliament. Then buoyed by the 28 seat victory in Parliamentary elections, he did just that. He brought down the INC-JDU coalition government by engineering defection by offering a total of around Rs 200 crore to 18 INC-JDS MLAs.

It is high time INC acknowledges that a certain amount of cunningness is required to keep the BJP at bay. Rahul’s “I will fight hate with love”, will not work. It is also high time INC realise that India has had a tectonic shift in its moral compass. Modi – Shah duo is very clear they will do anything to win elections. Through electoral bonds the BJP legalised anonymous election funding by corporates and is today the world’s richest party with 90% of electoral bonds.

In order to keep the BJP at bay INC also needs to understand that the parties enemy is not BJP, but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which has a huge organisational strength through its shakas. The INC is killed the grassroots organisational strength and ideological mooring starting with Indira, when she was fighting the old guard led by Jaya Prakash Narayan and then by Rajiv and Sonia who tried to consolidate their positions in the party, thanks to the dynastic outlook. For the RSS, 2019 General Election was a fight for ideological dominance and the INC failed miserably to provide an alternative ideological counterpoint.

Developed democracies have a tradition where a leader can lead a party in electoral defeat only once. Like US President Jimmy Carter lost re-election in 1980 or UK Prime Ministers John Major who lost 1997 elections or Tony Blair who lost in 2005 elections or David Cameron who lost the Brexit referendum in 2016. This “rising from dust” notion of leadership was gifted to India by the INC. Any leader who declared emergency and killed democracy, would not have got a chance to come back to power. But Indira Gandhi came back to power in 1979 General Elections after the Janata Party experiment failed. Rajiv Gandhi after election defeat in 1989 General Election also would have come back to power in 1991 General Election after the Janata Dal experiment failed, but for his untimely death.

In India leadership is considered privilege and dynastic. We give lot of opportunities for our leaders to “raise from the dust”. It is a self defeating philosophy and encourages mediocrity.

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