At an event in New Delhi on Saturday evening, Sugata Srinivasaraju, author of Strange Burdens: The Politics and Predicament of Rahul Gandhi, made an interesting suggestion: “Rahul Gandhi should announce that he will not be a prime ministerial candidate…He should be given ideas of patronage. One should adopt it and become the protector of its ideology, its values.
Either way, the author is not supposed to be a professional critic of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. Despite being critical of his politics, the book leaves an impression of sympathy and sympathy for the Congress leader. Srinivasaraju seemed convinced of Gandhi’s determination to re-establish the ideological direction of the Congress. In 2018, there was an interesting conversation between the two. The author told the Congress leader how he had asked a Marxist expert to explain the Bhagavad Gita in Kannada for a podcast. Their aim was to ‘make an experiment to counter other Hindutva ideas’. Gandhi was not convinced. He said, “I will tell you how to do it. The best way to combat this is to take away the article from them, make it your own… let them dance in their little forts while you build an alternate narrative. Gandhi told him, “We should quote from the Upanishads. ,
It is difficult to say how the search for an alternative narrative gave birth to the Bharat Jodo Yatra. But Srinivasaraju’s suggestion – that Gandhi should give up claim to the post of prime minister – is interesting. Not just because the Congress has a powerful alternative, but also because it has the potential to thwart the tried and tested electoral strategy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But before coming to the point, let’s look at Rahul Gandhi’s Hamletian dilemma (do, don’t) – be or not be the PM candidate, eat or not drink ‘poison’.
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Rahul Gandhi’s Hamletian Dilemma
From the time he refused to join the Manmohan Singh cabinet and later declared power to be “poison”, Rahul Gandhi has been tight-lipped about his prime ministerial ambitions. In her recently released book How Prime Ministers Decide, veteran journalist Neerja Chowdhary quotes K Natwar Singh as saying that it was Rahul’s threat to “take extreme measures” that forced Sonia Gandhi to “relinquish” the prime ministership in 2004. was forced to.
Nine years later, his power-poisoning remarks forced Congress leaders to borrow handkerchiefs to wipe their tears at an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in Jaipur. However, by January 2014, he was reconsidering, saying that his remarks did not mean that he would be unwilling to take responsibility if the organization offered it. He has maintained a firm grip on the organization by appointing his family loyalists and stalwarts to all key posts in the party, including the Congress Working Committee (CWC). To Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge in the party, she is what Sonia Gandhi was to Manmohan Singh in the affairs of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
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However, Congress leaders still keep speculating about his future plans as he does not show much interest in governance issues. He is creating a narrative of love against hate and attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, Rahul Gandhi’s negligence in policy matters is also clearly visible. He shows little interest in participating in debates on bills related to any area of governance. His speeches inside or outside Parliament are mostly nothing more than rhetoric. None of this indicates his readiness or eagerness to deal with the nitty-gritty of governance. Still, he has never ruled himself out of the PM race, be it 2024 or after.
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Kharge as a trump card
There was a time when Congress insiders used to say, “If not Rahul, then who?” He did not see any other Manmohan Singh in his midst. This perception is changing since Kharge took over the reins of the party in 2022. He has shown great understanding in understanding what the Gandhi family wants or expects him to do. He has been following those lines since assuming the office of Congress President. Accordingly, he dumped the Udaipur Declaration adopted by the CWC at the conclusion of the party’s Nav Sankalp Shivir in May 2022. In the manifesto, the party was committed to provide 50 per cent reservation to people below the age of 50 at all levels of the organisation.
Another important decision was that no person would hold any position in the party for more than five years. This was especially important as it would mean the removal of some big names in Rahul Gandhi’s circle, KC Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala, Avinash Pandey – you name it. No wonder Kharge was forced to reject the Udaipur Declaration. Of the 39 permanent members of the newly formed CWC, only three are under the age of 50, as the party president had to retain all Gandhi family loyalists.
All these things about Kharge are reassuring for the Gandhi family. In my Politically Correct column published on 22 May, I argued that among a dozen PM contenders in the opposition camp, there are at least three disruptive options – Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Mallikarjun Kharge and Nitish Kumar. I have been taking feedback from the leaders of INDIA. According to his assessment, Priyanka is not ready yet. Many of them believe that Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi caste and Bihari PM slogan can be very disruptive as far as BJP’s strategy is concerned. But if we talk about public perception compared to PM Modi’s track record, then the Bihar CM’s governance record in the last decade could be “negative”.
In my column, I argued that after Jagjivan Ram, no Dalit leader has the political clout to be seen as a PM contender in a country with 17 per cent Dalit population. Mayawati’s credibility among Dalits has gone down considerably, and hence, Kharge could be a strong choice as the prime ministerial candidate.
Rahul Gandhi vs Kharge
Today, I present few more points to strengthen my argument. What are the things used by PM Modi and other BJP leaders to bring down Rahul Gandhi?
Firstly, he says that he is the epitome of dynast dynasty. Kharge comes from a poor family. His father was an agriculturist and factory worker.
Second, according to BJP leaders, the Gandhi family is synonymous with minority appeasement. Kharge lost his mother and sister when he was seven, when the Razakars—a Muslim militia supporting the Hyderabad Nizam—set fire to their hut and killed them. The little boy and his father, who were not at home, had a narrow escape. It will be difficult for the BJP to level minority appeasement or anti-Hindu charges against Kharge.
Third, the BJP portrays the Gandhi family as corrupt, citing the National Herald case against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and the cases against Robert Vadra. Kharge’s record is spotless.
Fourth, the BJP taunts Rahul Gandhi for having no understanding or experience of governance. Kharge became a minister in the Karnataka government in 1978 and has since held several important ministries in the state as well as at the Centre.
Fifth, the BJP portrays Rahul Gandhi as a non-serious, part-time, privileged politician who does not even treat his party colleagues with respect. Even at the age of 81, Kharge is a 24×7 politician who treats his rivals in the party with respect. I will give only two examples – the choice of Siddaramaiah as the Chief Minister of Karnataka and the inclusion of Shashi Tharoor in the CWC.
There are many other reasons why Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate may force the BJP to come back with a new strategy. Needless to say that even in the INDIA coalition camp, the prime ministerial aspirants would find it difficult to oppose the candidature of a Dalit leader.
The best part is, win or lose, Kharge as the prime ministerial candidate could help the Congress win back its traditional Dalit vote bank to an extent, at a time when Dalits are looking for alternatives like the BJP.
With Kharge being the PM candidate, there is a lot of potential for the opposition. But for this to happen, Rahul Gandhi will have to solve the Hamletian dilemma. And there is no one in Congress to tell them what to do. Once in a conversation with Srinivasarajju, as recounted in his book, Gandhi asked him who could possibly be the teacher of someone like Buddha who had attained enlightenment. This is a million dollar question for the Congress and for India as well.
(Translation: Pooja Mehrotra)
DK Singh is Political Editor at ThePrint. Thoughts are personal.
(Click here to read this article in English)
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