Last Monday,there was a small earthquake in Delhi. But a bigger one followed on Tuesday. This was when Rahul Gandhi came out and took responsibility for the failure of his strategy in UP. This was a first. A scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty actually admitted a mistake! His sycophants had already begun to make excuses; Rahul baba was fantastic but the rest failed. They even claimed a victory of sorts that their vote share had gone up. This was the old culture of the Congress. Rahul hinted at a change and Sonia Gandhi the next day reinforced the message. Lessons may have been learnt.
Even so,the prospect for the Congress is bleak. Ever since Rahul entered politics in 2007,there has been an expectation that one day he would take over; no one was quite sure what he would take overthe party presidency or prime ministership. During the UP elections,Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal made the faux pas of declaring that Rahul could take over Manmohans job anytime he wanted. At the very least,the Congress hoped to go to 2014 elections with Rahul as the lead campaigner,perhaps even the prospective PM.
That game is now over. At least,the odds of the Rahul brand delivering a victory in 2014 on the scale of 2009 have now lengthened. The Congress never understood that in 2009,anything up to 50 seats were delivered by Manmohan Singhs rapport with Urban India. Ever since then,Manmohan Singh has been unfairly trashed by those eager to get on the Rahul bandwagon. Urban India has been ignored,if not punished. Rural poverty,rural health,rural employment etc are in. Money has been spent like there is no tomorrow. Rahul played the champion of the rural poor in UP and even repeated his promise of being seen around among the poor (not the rest?) in UP even on Tuesday.
It has not sunk into the heads of Congress netas that the game has changed. The poor dont want to be championed by people dropping in on them. They dont want handouts; they have aspirations. They want good private schools for their children since they know government schools dont work,whatever the NAC may believe. Congress is wasting its biggest achievementliberal reform and a high growth rate and parading the Indira Gandhi 1971 Garibi Hatao slogan. Rajiv Gandhi did better by way of modernising the economy. Why Rahul has taken to his grandmother and mothers policies and rejected his fathers is a question best left to psychologists.
The choices are stark. There are two years left at best. The Budget needs to show that the Government can revive growth and pursue the New Manufacturing Strategy. It must bring inflation under control and cut the budget deficit. Suspend new spending programmes till after the next election. The scandals in NHRM only show that programmes are launched with no previous piloting and no mechanism for monitoring or accountability. No one excludes Congress from the general charge that all parties are deeply corrupt and that every spending programme for the poor is just another excuse for filling party coffers.
Of course,the temptation would be to do exactly opposite; increase spending,neglect the deficit,launch populist policies,pander to Muslim voteBatla House again,treat the the BJP as the only serious challenge. That way lies isolation for the next five years. The BJP is neither here nor there. Between the two national parties,they would be lucky to win 250 seats instead of the present 300-plus. The key is to know your voter and not to typecast her. To look as if you will deliver well-thought out schemes rather than promise the moon.
This is why Nitish Kumar came back with a thumping majority in 2010 and Tarun Gogoi in 2011. This is why Mulayam/Akhilesh will deliver. Across Indias states,a new governance model has succeeded and the Centre is by contrast a picture of paralysis and dysfunction. The division between the PMs camp and Rahuls camp has to stop. It will be difficult enough to pass any legislation now; there is only executive action to get things done.
Can the Congress fight 2014 on Brand Congress and not Brand Rahul?