Apres Gujarat

A small news item from the day before yesterday — the day before the counting of votes in Gujarat and Himachal, the day before Parliament belatedly went into its much-delayed winter session — deserves your attention. The Prime Minister, it said, was in Mizoram to kick off the election campaign in that state. Today, he is in Karnataka and then on to Kerala and Tamil Nadu to “extensively review” the damage caused by Cyclone Ockhi, never mind that the storm hit the Indian coast over two weeks ago. (Nothing — not Parliament, not the responsibilities of government, not even natural disasters — ever come between Modi and an election campaign.)

A constant trope during the Gujarat election cycle is the political rejuvenation of Rahul Gandhi. The celebration of his political comeback was at times almost Shakespearian, echoing the transformation of ‘Prince Hal’, the intimate of Falstaff and his set of scoundrels, into the King Henry V who would lead England to glory at Agincourt when the time was right. Remember?:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at.

Rahul Gandhi, we learn, is finally “pleased to be himself”. He was focussed, he was disciplined, he was on message, he did the hard yards without flagging. The transformation from flighty dilettante was so complete that he was universally “wonder’d at”; the commentariat (at least that section that doesn’t make a living mocking his every action and utterance) sees in his ascension the hope that he will prove the fulcrum around which the combined opposition will coalesce.

These are the two poles of our polity: on the one side, a man who will devalue any institution, slander any individual, tell any lie, blow off any and all of the responsibilities of governance and stay focussed 24/7/365 on the relentless pursuit of political victory at any and every level up to and including local body elections and on the other side, a man who has spent the major part of his political life hanging with the Falstaffs of his court until, finally, on the day before a major exam, he finally awakened to a sense of his position and his responsibility.

That is the real lesson of Gujarat. Not that a “rejuvenated Congress” ran the BJP very close, but that politics is a full-time job. And that the true value of Rahul Gandhi’s ascent to the post of Congress president and thus, as the hoped-for maypole of the combined opposition, will be known not by what he did in Gujarat, but what he does in the days, weeks and months leading up to the next elections — in Mizoram, in Karnataka, in Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh.

There are many more stories emerging out of Gujarat — stories that will likely have a seminal impact on the short and medium-term future. But I’ll get to those in the coming days — once I feel more able to sit up and focus for extended periods of time. For now, while I convalesce, I’ll leave you with this one thought: an amateur, no matter how talented, is no match for the focussed workhorse capable of moving on to the next campaign even before the dust has fully settled on the last one.



3 thoughts on “Apres Gujarat

  1. I’m sorry sir, the middle para is something I just can’t fathom. We sports lovers have a fair bit of romanticism loitering about within but the cutthroat world of politics has no place for it. And that is exactly how this ‘reinvention’ trope sounds. I call it reinvention and not self-awakening as the PR overhaul is too apparent and indicative of the former. And yet, it’s the little things where the same PR revamp stands exposed. It can make him sound focused and articulate but cannot make up for a lack of fleet-foot, incisiveness and sharp political acumen.

    You point to his announced Guj visit but I’d like to point out how that is four days past the results and how Modi has already moved onto Meghalaya and teams from BJP have set foot in HP and Guj to oversee government formation. Rest assured, people will already have moved on. Congress doesn’t have the support of ancillary organisations like the VHP and RSS for cadres on the ground and it would do well to nurture those it has. Just imagine the damage to cadre morale after how BJP pipped Cong to form governments in states where it had almost no business doing so. And if one takes Sonia’s word for it, RG was practically calling the shots in the party back then. I know these are little things but for me they paint a far clearer picture of RG than any presser or talk in America.

    The ‘always a step behind’ trait is all too visible even when Modi/Shah are on the back foot. Whatever happened to setting a narrative. Instead, he is buying into the wrong ones and making a hash of those that he was handed to on a platter. So if GST, Demo, farmer distress, and patidar agitation couldn’t prevent BJP from winning, I don’t know what will. The cunning foxes that Modi/Shah are, one can safely expect a mix of populist budget and socialist measures to make sure both urban and rural voters are swayed back into its fold. Modi was tremendously smart in getting GST and Demo done mid-term so I’m expecting a further drought as far as suitable narratives/issues are concerned for the Congress to latch onto.

    All that said and done, Rahul will occupy the PM’s chair some day. Age will make sure of that. But enabling that will be the BJP’s decline at the national level owing to anti-incumbency and people’s desire for change. Don’t see him wresting a win akin to what Sonia did with Vajpayee.

    Good to see you back on the blog. Wish you a quick recovery.

  2. “an amateur, no matter how talented, is no match for the focussed workhorse capable of moving on to the next campaign even before the dust has fully settled on the last one”

    And thus the cry, “reluctant politician”.

    The BJP is an election machine helmed by men who are machines unto themselves when it comes to devising ways to win elections. A cursory glance at Modi’s past, from the time he joined the RSS to up until his elevation as Gujarat CM, indicates a body of work and experience that Rahul Gandhi can never hope to match, age difference notwithstanding.

    Just look at where he is post the results. A solitary tweet aside, no sign of him. No sign of a speech to rouse the cadre (ala Modi/Shah at BJP HQ) after what was a spirited showing at the polls (even though I consider it a sound defeat in the face of so many narratives/issues acting against the BJP).
    Instead, it’s up to the media to cling together positives for the Congress.

    He fails miserably at ‘realpolitik’.

    • Valid comments, Arjun, and I totally get where your “reluctant politician” point is coming from. In fact, that is a long-standing grouse — you have no business hanging your dilettantism on the peg of “reluctance”, while simultaneously holding one of the top posts in a political party. If you are all that reluctant, then you need to get the hell out and let someone with the will and the inclination take over: being in opposition is as vital a role as being in power, and the leadership of the Congress is no role for a part-timer.

      That said, remember his recent US trip? Somewhere around that time, something seems to have changed in him, is what I have been hearing from both insiders and observers. The consensus seems to be that he has finally woken up to a sense of his own responsibilities, and is now serious about the responsibility he had earlier been so cavalier about. I’ve been hearing this from a wide range of sources, and each time my reaction has been, well, time will tell, I’ll keep my fingers crossed pro forma, but I am not holding my breath either. We’ll see — it is like what we say of sports teams: character is best revealed in adversity, and RG’s real test begins now.

      In passing, though, there is this: Just yesterday, while discussing developments with a friend who had dropped in to see how I was getting on, I remember saying that if RG had any political sense, he would go back to Gujarat, do a road show there, partly to keep morale among the cadres high, but equally to show the people that he means business, that he will not vanish once the resulgs are in. And then, just now, I saw this:

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