London Olympic Games 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I take responsibility, says Rahul Gandhi about UP results

At his mother's home at 10 Janpath in Delhi, Rahul Gandhi commented on the UP elections that he steered for the Congress with poor results. "I take responsibility, I led the campaign," he said, adding that the result "is a good lesson for me." Mr Gandhi congratulated the Samajwadi Party and its young leader, Akhilesh Yadav, for its clear victory. "The mood (in UP) was for the Samajwadi Party," he conceded. His sister, Priyanka, who had campaigned in UP, hugged him after his remarks.

Why Rahul Gandhi failed, Akhilesh Yadav didn’t

Why Rahul Gandhi failed, Akhilesh Yadav didn't

The biggest question thrown up by assembly election results is why Akhilesh Yadav clicked in Uttar Pradesh, taking his party to an unprecedented victory on its own, and Rahul Gandhi did not.

Rahul Gandhi, like Akhilesh, led his party's campaign from the front, and did so in adverse circumstances, with the organisation almost defunct and out of power in UP for the last 22 years. Like Akhilesh, he worked equally hard, addressing over 200 meetings, and with sincerity. And yet it was the Samajwadi Party that emerged as the flavour of the season and not the Congress.

For a start, Rahul did not represent the local face that people were obviously looking for, and things might have been different had he been projected as the chief ministerial candidate of his party.

Article continues below the advertisement...On the other hand, Akhilesh, armed with the boy-next-door charm, had drawn large crowds, made up largely of enthusiastic young people, who rushed to hear 'bhaiyya', ever since he started his cycle and rath yatras in September 2011. Akhilesh the orator hardly sets the house on fire, but it was his easy accessibility, and the way he reached out to people and mingled with them that endeared him to the youth, who tipped the scales in the SP's favour.

Akhilesh also gave a new look to the SP — combining its old 'socialist' rhetoric of promising freebies like free 'unemployment dole' and free power with modern idioms like the use of new media and promise of laptops and tablets, which went down well with the youth. Obviously, a large chunk of the 1.49 crore new voters in UP rooted for the SP.

The turning point in the election for the SP came when Akhilesh took a stand to keep out DP Yadav, despite the backing the 'don' had of senior SP leaders like Azam Khan and Mohan Singh, thereby signalling a break from the past for the party which had been booted out in 2007 for its 'goondagardi'. This proved to be reassuring for communities other than the Muslims and Yadavs, particularly the upper castes who had not forgotten the excesses of Mulayam Singh's last regime. Had the announcement been made by Mulayam Singh Yadav, as the national president of the SP, it may not have had the impact it did. Above all, people saw the SP as best placed to replace Mayawati, and they wanted a clear verdict.

Unlike the SP, which had 25% of the vote share in 2007, the Congress could not boast of any one community in its kitty to begin with. The party made a mistake in not forging the social coalition that had stood Indira Gandhi in good stead — of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits, and in addition it could have also wooed some OBCs and MBCs this time. This was the same rainbow that brought Mayawati to power in 2007.

The Brahmins would have provided the base vote in the Congress kitty, attracting Muslims to their side in what could have been perceived as a winning combination. They had looked at the Congress favourably in the 2009 general elections and might have gravitated to the party had it given them more tickets and sent them suitable signals. Instead, the Congress strategy chose to focus more on wooing the OBCs, Jats, and the MBCs, who have not been traditional Congress voters, and it will take much longer to bring them to its side.

Rahul Gandhi could also have done without some loose cannons, who with their statements about Batla House, President's rule (and this may have created an even greater surge for the SP in the last two phases with a large concentration of Muslims) or 9% reservation for the Muslims, which created a reaction amongst Hindus and helped the BJP in many seats.

Though the SP has attained a clear majority, thanks to Akhilesh's efforts, the party is rooting for Mulayam Singh Yadav as chief minister. It may gently want to ease Akhilesh into this role, rather than rock the boat so soon after such an impressive victory, given that senior party leaders like his uncle Shivpal Yadav and Azam Khan are opposed to him. But the way he was received during the campaign has already catapulted him into the position of a natural successor to Mulayam Singh Yadav. It is only a matter of time before Akhilesh Yadav takes over, and the party will have to bring him to the fore sooner rather than later, for he, rather than Mulayam Singh Yadav, will be better placed to take on Rahul Gandhi in 2014.

As for Rahul Gandhi — and here he should get full marks for taking responsibility for the defeat — he will live to fight another day, and continue with his mission to revive the Congress party and take it to victory 'one day.'

That the SP marched ahead to a clear majority, breaking all previous records and expectations — its highest ever tally before this was 143 seats — showed that it had the support of communities other than its traditional 'M-Y' vote bank.

Clearly, there was an undercurrent against the Mayawati government and the SP was seen as best placed to provide the alternative to the BSP rule. It was ironic that despite Rahul Gandhi's rhetoric against Mayawati, which set the tone for the poll campaign, it was the SP, which focussed more on the freebies, which reaped the harvest.

Again, though it was the Congress that first announced 4.5% reservation for backward Muslims, promising another 4.5 % later, the Muslims clearly plumped for the Samajwadi party, without which its figure would not have been as impressive.

The BJP also benefitted in many urban seats from a Hindu-Muslim polarisation, with the Congress leaders repeatedly harping on quota for Muslims, and statements like 'Sonia Gandhi having tears in her eyes on seeing Batla house pictures', as it needlessly created a reaction among the upper castes, raking up an old issue. As a BJP wag put it, the Congress did for BJP what Narendra Modi might have done had he campaigned in UP.

What went wrong for Rahul Gandhi in UP

What went wrong for Rahul Gandhi in UP

Rahul Gandhi faced the media on the lawn of 10 Janpath on the afternoon of 6 March. He waited for correspondents, photographers and cameramen to settle down, with a look of mild amusement on his face, then said: "Ready?" They were. He then admitted responsibility for the Congress' poor showing in Uttar Pradesh, said that it was a "great lesson" for him, and vowed to be always around for the farmers and the poor in the state. His tone was friendly, the smile confident. As he walked away, to go back into his mother's home, he put his arm round the waiting Priyanka.

Till late into the night, Congress leaders fell over themselves trying to absolve Rahul of all responsibility. It was all part of the elaborate Congress political theatre that we are all quite familiar with. Both the actors and the audience know the script by heart now, but it can't be changed. 

Well, now that another act of the play is over, the Gandhi family surely has a lot to ponder over. They should, perhaps, pay particular attention to three questions:
1. If the Congress' ground-level party organization in UP was so weak

(as all Congressmen are claiming), shouldn't this be seen as a failure of the massive national campaign Rahul Gandhi launched a few years ago to recruit young people to his political cause? After all, the party had tom-tommed very impressive numbers about the Indian youth signing up as primary members.

2. Why did the Congress lose eight of the 10 assembly seats in the Gandhi family's pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli? Priyanka Gandhi addressed over 200 public meetings in these two parliamentary constituencies.

3. Between 2009 and 2011, Rahul Gandhi had meals, spent the night, and in one case, even had a bath using a hand pump, in the homes of five villagers in UP. Why couldn't the Congress win even one of these five assembly seats? The party lost even in Bhatta Parsaul where Rahul created a hue and cry about farm land acquisition and police atrocities.

Very few would deny Rahul Gandhi's sincerity, or the fact that he means well. But clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between him and the electorate. In December last year, I had wondered (Is the 'Rahul effect' wearing off?) whether he was doing the right thing by completely dissociating himself from the UPA government in Delhi, especially when he was going ballistic over the misgovernance of the Mayawati-led UP sarkar. How long could he continue to only weave dreams for the poor in his speeches when his own party was in power at the national level?

I think it's very interesting that in all the media reports and discussions on these state election results, no one—to my knowledge—mentioned one name: that of our Prime Minister. This just confirms the total irrelevance—at the very least, the absence of any positive relevance—of our PM and the government he titularly leads, in the eyes of both voters and commentators.

The wall that the Gandhis have tried to build between the government and the party (which is of course just another name for The Family) is actually the traditional Communist model. In India, it worked very well for the CPI(M) in West Bengal for many years, but was also finally responsible for its losing power. I am very certain that millions of UP voters like Rahul much more than any other politician, but they are also smart enough to recognize the above-all-accountability political status he has crafted for himself.

How long can he presume that he can dip his hand in any river and never get wet? I think a lot of UP voters thought of him as a good soul who would be of no help in their daily lives and struggles. And people across the country may want something more than expressions of good intentions from a man who will always be remote from them. At least at the state election level.

Things could well be different when the average citizen votes in a Lok Sabha election. But the dysfunctional UPA government is hardly helping the voter think that way. And for this, ultimately, Rahul and his mother will have to take responsibility, whether they want to or not.

They can't keep hiding behind their Teflon silences. 

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