Opportunity knocked…. and the Congress hosed it with water cannons!
Surprisingly, opportunity knocked again, and this time the Congress attacked it with the full might of its cavalry! In a nutshell, this can summarize the political strategy of the country’s oldest party over the last few years!
As someone who is almost militantly liberal (if there exists such a conundrum), I am filled with anxiety at the prospect of someone like Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister. I can see a future marked by manipulation and rapid hardening of religious and pseudo moralistic positions, shrinking space for free thinking and growing divisions in society. But to be fair, NaMO has never made any pretence as to what he stands for. He is stridently far right, and always has been. That is an available political position in a democratic society, which he is entitled to take.
The party that has actually betrayed the liberal polity of this country is the Congress. The nation hoped that they would firmly grip the mantle of liberal, centrist politics and take decisive actions that reflect this political ideology. People like me hoped they would balance both the far left and far right parties. We hoped they would focus on responsible economics and good governance. Respecting the rights of individuals to be different and treated with dignity. Building strong institutions and reforming the ones decaying at their roots. Instead, the Congress has dithered. It has bungled and vacated the liberal, forward looking space completely. Every day that it passes in fear of its own shadow and then makes knee jerk reactions, the far right appears better and better in reflected light. As things are, the BJP could possibly have no better PR agency than the Congress itself!
One is tempted to suggest that the Congress needs to line up all their so called “political strategists” and fire them, en masse! Even a rank amateur should have seen by now that a new vote bank is emerging, which can swing elections in India. The increasingly strident urban youth of India are voting. They are protesting and they are making their point of view known. And this community has become especially important after delimitation of constituencies. Politics is no longer just a rural poor game. The strange part is that this should have actually played to Congress’s advantage. They had a young leader in Rahul Gandhi waiting in the wings. And he could have become a darling of the youth overnight! Most of our youth are liberal by nature, with modern aspirations. They don’t want to be moral policed, they don’t want to be arrested for Facebook posts and they don’t want to see Indians massacring fellow Indians! They want a prosperous, developed, equal opportunity, liberal India. The youth of this country is not violent or rigid thinking by nature. Any extreme ideology tends to find favour with only a few, while the large mass remains tolerant. Preferring to live and let live as long as their personal quality of life improves steadily.
The Congress had the opportunity to project itself as the party that can bring this to them. Politically, history presented them with golden opportunities such as the Anna Hazare movement and the Delhi rape case agitation. The savviest response would have been for a young Rahul Gandhi to throw his hat in the ring, and embrace the young protesters. Rush to India gate and address them. Tell them he feels their pain and is on their side, and will push this government to do the right thing! How difficult would this have been? He could have got himself a cult following overnight! How difficult would it have been for the Congress to acknowledge that the Varma commission report made eminent sense and that it plans to implement most if not all of the recommendations, including the ones they quietly left out? Did they honestly think that the rural vote banks would not vote for them if they criminalized marital rape? Did they think some far right vote bank would eschew them if they agreed to look into the validity of AFSPA in sexual offences? The mind boggles at the absolute inability to take brave decisions, even when it is politically expedient for them to do so! Clearly they appear to be focused on a bygone era, where only the poor, rural vote bank mattered. The fact that national politics in India has moved far beyond this stage, seems to have escaped them completely.
Meanwhile Modi, canny as he is, has factored this in perfectly. He no longer utters the word Hindutva. He knows that he does not need to. He has made that point and his followers trust him implicitly. So now he goes to the Maha Kumbh and then to Delhi. When he gets to Delhi, he does not give a speech at Azad Maidan to a large mass of people, brought there on inducement of food and alcohol. He does not go spend a night in a rickshaw pullers house! Instead he lands up at the SRCC College and gives a lecture on globalization and economic development. He addresses the India Today conclave and the captains of industry. He talks to the youth about a resurgent India. What a master stroke! Even the most battle hardened Modi baiter would be forced to admit that the man is clearly rising in stature. And there seems to be an absence of any real leader capable of challenging him.
The tragedy is that our weary youth actually want a strong and liberal leader. But in the absence of both, they are settling for “at least strong”. So NaMo may well ride this wave, and become PM one day. When that happens, the Congress will have no one to blame but themselves!
Is the game already lost? It seems so. At best the Congress should perhaps look to 2019 and hope that the NDA shoots itself in the foot, which it is eminently capable of! And if they can do away with their dinosaur era strategists, they may want to bring Priyanka Gandhi into the political limelight. At least she appears to resemble her grandmother in looks and perhaps strength of character. She may still be able to breathe some vitality into an aging, out of touch party. Of course, if the Congress wanted to really pull the rug from under the BJP’s feet, they could woo Nitish (who appears willing) and announce him as the PM candidate for 2014! That would rattle the BJP and present people with a real choice! It could make life very difficult for NaMo as well, because of poll arithmetics in UP and Bihar. This could be the smartest thing to do, given Rahul Gandhi appears unwilling to risk 2014 and Manmohan is a liability while PC is not popular with anyone. But is the Congress secure enough to pull off something like this? Clearly not! Quite frankly, it seems like a long, long stint in the shadows for the grand old party at this stage!
* The livemint article on Bihar: