While addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on December 2, Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi “a prisoner of his own image and bases his policy making on TRPs”. He also attacked the PM on several issues, including demonetization, increasing deaths of soldiers in militant attacks, Kashmir unrest and the BJP-led NDA government’s Pakistan policy. One of the roles of the opposition parties in any democracy is to critically evaluate the policies and actions of the government and highlight the deficiencies, drawbacks and the possible harm to the people and the country. Hence issue based attack on the government is a responsibility of any opposition party leader and Rahul Gandhi has a right to do it. His argument that the surgical strike on the terrorist launching pads in Pakistan territory has not reduced much the terrorist attacks is valid to some extent in the light of fresh terrorist attack on the Indian army at Nagrota on November 29 in which 7 soldiers were killed. “Our soldiers and families are paying the price. 85 soldiers have been martyred, this is the highest number of men we have lost in almost a decade,” he said. His criticism that demonetization is “badly conceived” and “incompetently implemented” carries weight in the light of the reports from different parts of the country about the suffering caused to the people, including huge job loss in the informal sector.
At the same time personal attack on the Prime Minister is not going to bring any dividend either to Rahul Gandhi or to the Congress party. First of all, the popularity graph of PM is on the rise in spite of the havoc caused by the demonetization adventure. The victory of BJP in the recently held by-elections to the Lokh Sabha and state assemblies and the huge gains of BJP in the civic polls in Maharashtra and Gujarat are projected by the media as the signs of rising popularity of PM Modi. He has won the online reader’s poll for TIME Person of the Year, beating out other world leaders, artists and politicians as the most influential figure in 2016 among people who voted. Modi won with 18% of the vote when the poll closed on December 4 midnight. He was placed well ahead of his closest contenders, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump (7% each). The Prime Minister and his party cadres are able to convince a large section of Indian people, including the poor, that demonetization is going to bring huge dividend to them in the near future after a short period of ‘inconvenience’.
Secondly, Rahul Gandhi has miserably failed to establish his credentials to personally attack the PM. He has not been able to prove his competence as a political leader ever since he entered active politics. Compared to PM Modi his public speaking skills and capacity to convince people with solid arguments is almost zero. After Modi came to power the Congress under the leadership Rahul could not win any state election except gaining a few seats in Bihar because of being part of the grand alliance. On the other hand, it lost power in Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Kerala. As the second in command of the Congress party he could have accepted the responsibility for the rout in these state elections, but he didn’t have the humility to do so. “Rahul Gandhi has been in politics for more than a decade, long enough for us to judge what – if any – his leadership abilities are. Viewed comparatively (and objectively), he does not have Indira’s social understanding, Rajiv’s belief in the transformative powers of technology, or Sonia’s physical stamina.” (‘The Long Life and Lingering Death of Indian National Congress’ in ‘Democrats And Dissenters’ by Ramachandra Guha)
The Congress Party, being the largest political party in the opposition with a pan Indian presence, has a great responsibility to the nation in preserving and strengthening democracy and contributing to the development of the Indian people and the nation. If the party is to be relevant it has to play the role of a responsible opposition being constructive and at the same time critical of the government policies and actions.
First of all, the Congress party has to give up the tactic of stalling the parliament. Not allowing the parliament to function is not seen by the people as a valiant act, but a sign of political immaturity. Rahul Gandhi and the congress leaders have to win over the people with their wits and arguments in the parliament.
Secondly, the party has to make a cost benefit analysis of demonetization based on solid data collected through research. The study shall include projected fall in the GDP, cost of job loss especially in the informal sector, the cost of human tragedy, including the number of people died. The economic research department of SBI expects that Rs. 2.5 lakh crore will not to come into the banking system. According to SBI's estimates, Rs. 13 lakh crore worth of banned notes might be deposited in the banking system out of the total value of high denomination currency in circulation (before November 8) worth Rs. 15.5 lakh crore. This means that around Rs. 2.5 lakh crore might not be coming back into the system, the bank said in a report. Economist Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar is of the view that RBI may give this amount to the government as a special dividend. “This will enable Modi to pour Rs 5,000-10,000 into each of the 250 million Jan Dhan accounts. That will surely shift the public mood in his favour. Never in Indian history has any politician put so much hard cash into the pockets of all the needy. That might just win Modi the UP election”. (Modi’s test lies in stage 3 of the notebandi in Times of India, December 4, 2016) Demonetization of the high values notes is more a political decision than an economic decision. The Congress party has to prove to the people with hard facts and figures that the cost is far heavier than the benefits.
Thirdly, the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi have to go to the people and explain to them the costs and gains of demonetization. As the whole media is almost under the control of the government, the Congress party has no alternative other than approaching the people directly by organizing meetings at the Gram Panchyat level, municipality level and the block and district levels. Along with demonetization the party shall educate the people on the failure of the government in stopping terror attacks in spite of the highly publicized “surgical strike”.
The root cause of the failure of the Congress party is that it has lost its connection with the people. The only way to revive the Congress is to reach out and bring back the groups that have left it. This requires a well- oiled party machinery. The Congressmen will be living in fool’s paradise if they think that Rahul or Priyanka can win them elections just as Nehru and Indira did. The new generation of Indians do not consider political lineage as a criterion for electing their leaders. In the words of Ramachandra Guha “Indians now demand from their leaders that they work hard, that they assume tough responsibilities, that they take personal risks, and that they offer hope for a better future. Being from a family of former prime ministers is no desirable attribute to a future prime minister”.
In the current political scenario Rahul Gandhi has two options before him. The first option is to assume the responsibility of the Congress President without any delay and commit himself to strengthen the party through hard work and determination. His top priority should be rebuilding the party from the grass root level by reviving inner party democracy. The district Congress Committees and the Pradesh Congress Committees are to be reconstituted through democratic process and they are to be made dynamic and vibrant. Simultaneously he has to build alliances with the secular parties to fight against the BJP in the elections to the state assemblies. Going alone in UP elections will be a disaster for the Congress.
The second option for Rahul Gandhi is to open the door of the top leadership to the talented and committed members of the Congress party by declaring that he would not be a contender for the topmost leadership position. He and Sonia Gandhi can facilitate the process of a transition from dynastic functioning of the party to democratic functioning by building consensus to choose the best person from the party as the Congress President. The people of India would welcome gladly the second option. In this case both Sonia and Rahul will be making their best contribution not only to the Congress party but also to the nation. At this juncture personal attack on the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will not be any use; Rahul and the Congress have to focus on rebuilding the party and bringing to the attention of the people the negative consequences of the policies and actions of the present government with convincing arguments, facts and figures.
(Published on 12nd December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 50)#