The Congress: RIP to WIPhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/congress-rahul-gandhi-sonia-gandhi-gujarat-elections-results-bjp-narendra-modi-5016787/

The Congress: RIP to WIP

Despite its improved showing in Gujarat, the party is a work in progress. It still has a mountain to climb for 2019.

Congress, Rahul gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Gujarat, Gujarat elections results, BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian express column
Sometimes, a vision can be articulated by a catchy slogan. Like ‘roti, kapda, makaan’ or ‘bijli, sadak, pani’. Narendra Modi is master of such wordplay. Rahul Gandhi needs a phrase that promises a remedy in the key areas where there is discontent, concern and anguish among Indians today. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

The BJP’s diminished tally of 99 seats in Gujarat has apparently ushered in great tidings of hope in the Congress camp. After being decimated in election after election, starting with the 2014 debacle, this is understandable. After all, the Congress lost better in Gujarat. While it is important to use this verdict to revive the sagging morale within the party, Rahul Gandhi will be making a colossal mistake in thinking that he has created the platform for an electoral upset in 2019. At best, as things stand today, he can harbour hopes of finishing a creditable second. The BJP’s improved vote-share in Gujarat, despite multiple headwinds, should tell him that a strategy of relying on the opponent’s mistakes and shortcomings will not be enough. The Congress needs an original pitch to pull voters, particularly in urban India. Disaffection alone won’t work; Gujarat is proof of that.

Rahul Gandhi has undergone a political makeover. His party needs one too, desperately. First, he has to form a team of new generals and galvanised footsoldiers. If citizens perceive that voting the Congress back to power means reinstating the same bunch of utterly corrupt and incompetent politicians who dragged the nation down to its knees, they will never sign up for it. The old generals have to be retired, newer and younger faces have to lead the charge. The next year has to be used to revive the moribund Congress cadre on the ground, at the state level. Else the BJP’s vastly superior election-fighting machinery will stamp it out. Rahul Gandhi has to start at ground zero and build up. His party’s recent legacy is more of a handicap than an advantage.

Second, he needs a narrative. Sometimes, a vision can be articulated by a catchy slogan. Like roti, kapda, makaan or bijli, sadak, paani. Narendra Modi is a master of such wordplay. Rahul Gandhi needs a phrase that promises a remedy in the key areas where there is discontent, concern and anguish among Indians today. Does aay, nyay, uday have a ring to it? Income, Fairness, Emergence. Let’s examine this as a proposition.

Aay — income or jobs. Any new vision statement from a political challenger has to start here. The economy has slowed, job creation has stalled and the fear of joblessness is an emotive subject among the urban electorate. The Congress needs to articulate a 10-point plan on how it intends to reverse this growing feeling of economic insecurity.

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Nyay — justice, equity, fairness. There is a huge groundswell of seething emotion among various sections of society — Muslims, Dalits, farmers, other minorities and even segments of urban India who have been stunned by the rapid escalation in discrimination, intolerance and violence in our social fabric over the last three years. In harnessing this discord, the old Congress strategy of lining up a ragtag coalition of weak political allies in the name of an “anti-communal brigade” will just not work. Nor will politically expedient visits to Hindu temples — you can’t beat the BJP at its own game. The Congress has to come up with a new message to reach out to these large social clusters and choose its partners very carefully. This may be the trickiest part of its vision plan, yet the most crucial.

Uday — emergence or rise. No electoral pitch, in these times, can be devoid of a strand of aspiration and development. The promise of uday has to include rural India. However drunk we may be in our headiness of GDP growth, in which the agricultural sector has lost its relevance, farmers still make up a very large percentage of our population. As Gujarat showed, they are very angry. Not loan waivers, they need a new, sustainable plan. Uday should also include the hope of India emerging as an export powerhouse, a boat we seem to have missed. Above all, it should hold out the assurance of emerging from the dark hole of inequality that we are getting deeper into with every passing year. The gap has to narrow. Uday is about a better life, for all Indians. And about India rising to find its place in the world.

This is not electoral spin. Rahul Gandhi does not possess Modi’s political guile or his ability to deliver political spin. Yet, he comes across as earnest and doesn’t seem divisive. If he can put forward such a strong alternate narrative, revive the Congress party at the ground level and start a dialogue with a few credible regional leaders with a clean image, in 2019, we could have an interesting contest on our hands. With Gujarat, only a small start has been made. If the three letters which summarised the state of the Congress party after 2014 were RIP — rest in peace — now it could be WIP — work in progress. There is a lot of work to be done, armed with the promise of aay, nyay, uday.