Though Rahul Gandhi did commit a few tactical errors in his campaign, it would be grossly unfair to say that he was responsible for the Congress defeat in Uttar Pradesh.
The recent elections to the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly can also be seen as a battle among three men: Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), which swept the polls.
Though Mayawati, who ruled Uttar Pradesh for five years, must be lauded for rising as the first Dalit (low-caste Hindu) woman leader, her tenure was marked by self-promotion and narcissism.
She spent huge money on erecting tens of statutes of herself all over the state, the figure replete with her handbag. If they were not carvings of Mayawati, they were those of elephants, BSP’s symbol.
Mayawati has also had the unsavoury reputation of trying to build a commercial corridor along a heritage as sacred and symbolic as the Taj Mahal. The plan in the first stages of execution was “discovered” in the nick of time, and had to be dropped.
Interestingly, Yadav presented a picture of poise and maturity with a firm and practical agenda for change. He must have appeared strong and sincere enough for voters to forget (and perhaps forgive) the earlier notorious rule of the SP. It was commonly described as the “goonda raj”.
Obviously, much like what happened in Gujarat – where Chief Minister Narendra Modi (of the Bharatiya Janata Party), accused of being responsible for the mass killings of Muslims in 2002, could convince the electorate that he would propel the state into economic prosperity –Yadav’s promise of progress and development in Uttar Pradesh (one of the most backward regions) ought to have moved the people.
Unfortunately, Gandhi, despite his entire family campaigning for votes, eventually was seen as an angry young scion. Many thought that he was the propagator of dynastic politics, and nothing more.
One may argue here that family-run political parties are not uncommon in India. We have seen this in several places, including Tamil Nadu, where the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) firmly believes in this kind of tradition.
However, Gandhi went to Uttar Pradesh at a time when the entire nation was angry with the Congress’ misrule and shameless scams.
On top of this, the country has a Congress Prime Minister who has done precious little in three years. Or, perhaps was not allowed to function probably by Sonia Gandhi. She heads the party, wielding enormous power, but holds no position in the government. Right without responsibility!
And ironically and somewhat foolishly, Rahul Gandhi went literally breathless trying to lambast the corruption of the Mayawati administration. The voter, however average in thinking or uneducated or poor, could not have missed the hypocrisy in Gandhi’s anti-scam tirade.
Given the Congress’ horribly unclean record in recent times and its attempt to browbeat Team Anna’s efforts to introduce a strong Lokpal Bill in Parliament to tackle corruption, Gandhi’s anti-scam speeches seemed hollow. It was just plain rhetoric.
Yet, I would disagree with all those who feel that Gandhi’s future as India’s Prime Minister was directly linked to the Congress winning in Uttar Pradesh.
One writer said: “The defeat must have been especially galling for Rahul Gandhi, since so much of his own political progression was invested in a revival of the Congress in UP. If he had ‘delivered’ UP, he would have added some weight to the vacuous claims of dynasty worshippers that the prime ministership is his for the taking”.
Though Gandhi did commit a few tactical errors in his campaign – like playing the caste and communal cards and his dramatic theatrics, including his visits to Dalit homes and padayatras (foot marches) – it would be grossly unfair to say that he was responsible for the Congress defeat in Uttar Pradesh.
All said and done, the humungous Congress misdemeanours hung on Gandhi’s back like an alabatross. He could not have shaken it off.
With India’s general election set for 2014 (unless one is called before that), the Congress better buck up with some real cleansing and action if it wants to try and win.
Indians are demoralised and even shamed by the cancerous spread of corruption and economic downturn. And they hold the Congress guilty.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.