Rahul Gandhi has finally entered the election battle, addressing a rally at Mahuva in Surat district, Gujarat. Even though it’s too late, it may encourage Congress cadres, as its campaign did not have many top leaders, whereas the arch-rival Bharatiya Janata Party is leaving no stone unturned. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are leading the battle. The Aam Aadmi Party is also trying hard, with its chief Arvind Kejriwal and other senior leaders canvassing for votes in the western state. Himachal Pradesh still remains neglected by the Congress top brass. Sonia Gandhi is not there because of health issues. Priyanka Vadra is campaigning but not as much as the state leaders want her to. A few weeks earlier, the BJP’s prospects in the hill state, which is known to change the government every five years, were dim. Apart from anti-incumbency, there is the problem of rebels. A video went viral showing PM Modi beseeching a rebel BJP leader to stand down. BJP detractors were gleeful, saying that the party was so desperate that the PM had to intervene. What they failed to notice was the steadfastness of the BJP: party cadres do get a fillip when they see that the country’s biggest leader is so serious about a state poll.
Compare and contrast this with the GOP top leadership’s approach to the state Assembly elections. The top leader, Rahul Gandhi, remains occupied with his Bharat Jodo Yatra. Then he rakes up an unnecessary controversy, on VD Savarkar, annoying his ally in Maharashtra, the Uddhav Shiv Sena. Soon after, Medha Patkar’s joining the yatra attracts criticism from the BJP. Without naming Rahul and Patkar, Modi attacked the Congress leader, questioning his (Rahul’s) proximity with “those who were against Narmada dam.” It seems that Rahul is trying to build a counter-narrative to that of the BJP’s hyper-nationalist, Hindu-centric one. Hence the name Bharat Jodo, and hence Patkar’s publicised presence at the yatra. The counter-narrative may be the thread that would help his party have some sort of understanding with NGOs and activists, most of whom are Left-leaning. It may be pointed out here that these activists had played a key role in discrediting the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2004, which resulted in the return of the Congress to power after eight years in the wilderness. Therefore, Rahul’s wanderings may have a theme; there may be a long-term plan. But a political party cannot afford to ignore short- and medium-term matters; it must fight elections seriously; good intentions and noble sentiments must never be lost sight of; but realpolitik too cannot be ignored. And it is here that Rahul’s leadership has been lacking. What the country has witnessed in the last nine years is the unstoppable march of the Modi juggernaut and the concomitant diminishing of the Congress. Rahul and other Congress leaders like party president Mallikarjun Kharge must get serious about fighting elections and act accordingly.