20 March 2018 05:32 AM



How Can Rahul Gandhi Be Trusted?

When a holiday becomes more important than an election

How do you interpret the leader of a national political party being on a family holiday at a time when important Assembly elections are decided? Exactly how the country interpreted it.

When right wingers in Tripura toppled Lenin’s statue, which led to the desecrations of Periyar, Ambedkar and Gandhi statues in different parts of the country, when the BJP managed to form a government, yet again, despite the Congress victory in Meghalaya, Rahul Gandhi was playing Holi with his 91-year old grandmother in Italy.

In a country that admires 24x7 politicians, Rahul Gandhi’s conspicuous absence at crucial political moments cannot go without being scrutinized. Even after considering the well deserved breaks of a hard working politician, it begs the question whether the country can trust Rahul Gandhi to be sincere and consistent.

During the campaign in Gujarat, the opposition seemed to get its mojo back. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the party managed to make BJP nervous in its own den. The responsibility of being the president of Congress, it seemed, had turned him on. But the purple patch was short lived, as became evident in the northeast. With Karnataka elections not far away, it is astonishing how casual the Congress leader has been.

Tripura, which was the story of the week, is as much about the BJP victory as it is about the Congress’ defeat. The Left, to be fair, maintained its 40% vote share. The result makes one wonder whether the Congress was indeed the principal opposition party for the 20 years of the Manik Sarkar regime. In 2013, Congress had a 36.5% vote share, which plummeted to under 2% in merely 5 years. The entire gap was devoured by BJP.

After the resounding success in 2014, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah started focusing in the northeast, for the states here always tend towards the party in power at the centre. Which is why it shouldn’t be a surprise that BJP is the preferred choice of the regional parties today. However, the BJP had particularly focused on Tripura. After all, Golwalkar had placed the communists at the third position after Muslims and Christians as the main enemies of the country.

Manik Sarkar was personally respected for his humble lifestyle. His biggest achievement remains ensuring peace and the withdrawal of AFSPA. When he took over, Tripura was plagued with violence. But the aspirational class had become despondent in Tripura. Lack of industries meant lack of jobs. Plus, the government servants being on the fourth pay commission when the rest of the country had moved on to the seventh were not too impressed either. At the end of the day, one cannot eat ideology.

At a time like this, the Congress hardly played the role of the opposition party, ceding space to the BJP, which does not lose out on any opportunity. Sunil Deodhar was given the responsibility of Tripura, and the rest is history. He was aptly helped by the disillusioned regional Congress leaders – around 25 of them – who defected to the BJP. They brought in their workers as well. Considering the influence of the Left in tribal areas, the BJP even allied with IPFT, the party that is demanding an independent state. By the time the results came out, IPFT’s demand for a tribal CM was easily ignored, as the BJP emerged with 35 seats in a 60-member assembly.

All this while, Rahul Gandhi was dormant, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been conducting consistent rallies through the state. The second rung leaders had made Tripura their base. Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP leader who was in charge of the northeast, is originally a Congressman. He knows their weak links, and exploited them well. The BJP is never short of money and muscle to execute their plans, but that is not something the Congress is deprived of. Penury is not something the Congress leaders can pull off convincingly.

If the humiliation in Tripura was not enough, the BJP managed to form the government in Meghalaya even after winning just 2 seats. In spite of precedents like Manipur and Goa, it is amazing how the Congress let this happen for the third time, even after being the single largest party in the state. The BJP stitched an alliance with Conrad Sangma’s NPP (19), and other smaller parties to present a list of 34 MLAs.

All this doesn’t augur well for the Congress if it plans to do coalition politics in the future.

Except Karnataka, Punjab and Mizoram, the rest of the states have non-Congress governments in India. It is now or never for the grand old party, and unfortunately for Rahul, he is up against the determined Jodi of Modi-Shah. Prashant Jha’s book “How the BJP Wins” has details of how clinically the party executes its plans. If Rahul plans to put up a fight, he might have to take a leaf out of his rival’s book. Unless, there are several Tripura's in the waiting.