Rahul’s soft power
So, it was the Political class that was divided, unsure and circumspect. The people of India were one in what they wanted out of Elections 2009. Little surprise then that even the Congress’s poll managers, from Sonia Gandhi downwards, received the outcome with disbelief.
The party had given itself a minimum of 153 seats in the new House. Its breakup for individual states was: Andhra 18, UP 11, Madhya Pradesh four, Rajasthan 12, Kerala eigth, Haryana eight, Delhi five and Uttarakhand one. In all these and many other states, the Congress performed way beyond its own expectations to notch up 205 seats. In Andhra, Chief Minister YS Rajsekhara Reddy delivered on his promise of 30-plus by returning 32; in UP the Rahul Gandhi magic and the strategy to field new faces helped the party walk away with 21 seats and in MP a faction-ridden Congress mopped up a tally of 12. In Delhi it won in all seven constituencies and in Rajasthan it got seven additional seats. Kerala gave it five more than the projected eight.
The best surprise was the BJP-ruled Uttarakhand, a hill district carved out of UP, where the Congress pocketed all five parliamentary seats. Chief Minister Maj. Gen. (retd) B C Khanduri’s image among the people and his party colleagues is as badly mauled as Musharraf’s in Pakistan. His critics say he runs the government the way a general runs his corps. Does Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan’s decimation in Bihar, Mayawati’s decline in UP, Chandrababu’s stagnation in Andhra and the Left’s defeat in West Bengal and Kerala mean the country has started moving towards a bipolar polity? Certain regional parties like the DMK, JD (U) and Trinamool have done well. But is it curtains in the near future for regional entities feeding on parochial and caste allegiances?
Looks like, but it isn’t an easy way forward. The party will have to become what it originally was— an implicit coalition of ideas and social identities. Pandit Nehru ran it that way and Rahul, his great grandson wants to mould himself after the great man. The loss of political work culture of yore has cost the politician his image and parties like the Congress their social base and standing among the masses.
I am not for a moment suggesting that Rahul is the latter day Nehru. But who knows what destiny has in store for him? When he praised Nitish Kumar and Naidu for the good work they did, he reminded me of a story narrated some years ago by a former House Keeper at Teen Murti House when it was the PM’s official residence. Panditji never got along with G B Pant. But he could keep their differences from coming in the way of their personal relationship.
Upon inviting Pantji for dinner one night along with some other guests, he told the House Keeper to ensure the UP strongman was served soup in a special bowl so that it did not spill because of Pantji’s tremulous grip of it. The old man had a tremor in his hands. The lady also told me that among the top leaders inconsolable after Nehru’s death was a young Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom the late PM patronised for the promise he showed as a parliamentarian and a formidable critic of his government.
That eye for talent, that sense of caring is simply not there among our politicians these days. For that reason alone, if Rahul retains his simplicity, his unmistakable innocence and regard for adversaries, he’d set a trend others will find difficult to resist.