Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford.
If he has not heard it – and chances are he has not – Rahul Gandhi better internalise what the pioneer of American auto industry had said as he gets ready to become the fifth generation president of Indian National Congress.
Fate is a funny thing. It somehow conspires to get it right. And oftentimes it carries with it the tag ‘cruel’. Whatever’s meant to happen will happen. Rahul Gandhi has been on the cusp of presidentship of India’s grand old party for four years now. In fact, it has been his for the taking because, after all, it is his mother’s decision who to give it to. The project called entitlement, started by Rahul’s grandmother, leaves no scope for anyone else.
But for one reason or the other Sonia Gandhi kept postponing it. And Rahul Gandhi never seemed to ask for it either, at least not officially or publicly. We don’t know what the mother and son discussed at the dinner table, but it’s safe to assume the two had decided now is the time for the scion to take over.
And look how fate is conspiring! Rahul Gandhi’s ascension to the high seat will take place on December 19. One day prior to that, on December 18, results of the Gujarat Assembly elections will be declared. Results of the Himachal Assembly elections will also be known simultaneously but that’s a sideshow, so to say, compared to the big prize of Gujarat.
Gujarat has been under the stewardship of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for longer than Sonia Gandhi’s presidentship of the Congress Party, since 1995 whereas the senior Gandhi took over three years later. Rahul Gandhi has been campaigning there for the past two months or more. He has tried every trick in the trade to wean Guajartis away from the BJP.
He has tied up with a set of disgruntled youths with some following in certain pockets. He has promised special job quotas for certain sections which, if implemented, would be trashed forthwith by the Supreme Court. He has got all senior leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh at the ripe age of 85, to address rallies. He has held street-corner meetings and teashop tete-a-tete with villagers. He has even started visiting Hindu temples trying to placate the largely religious Hindu voters of the state. (Now don’t tell me the Congress is a secular party and, therefore, would nothing politically incorrect, like seeking votes in the name of religion. The Congress Party has always done that, so there is nothing new here). In short, if this doesn’t work for Rahul, nothing ever will.
Coincidentally, the BJP is on the backfoot, to borrow a cricketing expression, not because of Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive campaigns but because of the immense anti-incumbency it has to face. These are times when a party will face anti-incumbency even after a five-year term in power. Kerala is prime example. So imagine what the BJP is up against after 22 years. Add to that the fact that Narendra Modi, after a 12-year reign as chief minister, had left such a large gap that neither Anandiben Patel nor Vijay Rupani, the two who succeeded Modi, had been able to fill.
The BJP has been up against some equally serious problems of its own making, this time thanks to Modi himself. Both the demonetisation of high value currencies in November 2016 and the goods and services tax (GST) from July this year have not gone down well with large sections of the trading community which forms a substantial chunk in Gujarat. The diamond cutting and polishing industry of Surat and nearby areas has been hit hard because much of the business was cash-based and the overnight withdrawal of the 1000 and 500-rupee notes had created havoc there.
The same is true of the textile industry which is bigger than diamond trade. The textile mills themselves were not much affected but downstream businesses that depended heavily on casual labour got caught on the wrong end of the stick as most of them were in the unorganised sector and, therefore, have issues with the GST.
Modi has never been a favourite with the media – perhaps the feeling is mutual – even during his chief ministership days and his promotion to Delhi had only soured the relationship with mainstream media which in India is generally more left-of-centre. So the headlines tended to highlight the negative aspects of demonetisation and GST more than the fact that they were aimed at greater common good. Gujarat 2017 is no exception as far as press coverage and comments are concerned.
Ever since his historic victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections, Modi has been the prime mover and shaker of the BJP even when it came to election campaigns in states. Except for Bihar, where Janata Dal – United chief Nitish Kumar was equal to the task, and Punjab where alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal did the BJP in, the BJP had ridden the Modi wave to power in state after state despite the media.
Modi was the campaigner-in-chief in Uttar Pradesh last February-March and the media had detected ‘intense nervousness’ on the part of the BJP for it to project the prime minister as some sort of glorified chief ministerial candidate. Modi has been blitzing Gujarat this past week and similar sentiments have come from commentators whose names have recall and recognition value. Only the voter knows what she is going to do on election day. Rest are all conjectures.
But that is not to say that things are not stacked against the BJP far more than they are against the Congress. Yet, BJP chief Amit Shah is confident his party will not only win but win with a two-thirds majority. That may be pre-poll bluster because no party, leave alone a party chief, would like to admit it will lose. Most opinion polls too favour yet another BJP victory although in not so sweeping scale.
We will know on December 18. The next day Rahul Gandhi will become president of the Congress Party. There was much hugging and dancing when Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for the party president’s post. (As if it would have made a difference!) An outright win in Gujarat would be the icing on the cake that will be waiting for Rahul Gandhi at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in New Delhi’s Akbar Road that day. In the absence of victory, even an improvement from the present tally of 60 would do to maintain a sense of de javu.
But if Shah’s prediction of a two-thirds majority for his party comes true, forget dancing, forget the cake, forget the crackers, it is doubtful if anyone will turn up at AICC office even to click a ‘selfie’ with the new party president.
If only the Gujarat Assembly elections are as predictable, and favourable, as the election of the Congress Party president! Fate, as mentioned earlier, can be cruel oftentimes. Rahul Gandhi should then find time to read up on Henry Ford and others. There will be more battles coming his way soon.
Sting in tail: I quoted Ford to a long-time Congressman, not a leader mind you, and he quoted Ford back to me: “The customer can have a car painted any colour he wants as long as it’s black.” Meaning, the Congress Party can have any president it wants as long as it’s a Gandhi! The party may be down, but certainly not out, especially on humour quotient.
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