Opinion: Is it going to be the end of the road for Rahul Gandhi on June 4?

The major personalities in these elections are Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

By Newsmeter Network  Published on  30 May 2024 9:36 AM GMT
Opinion: Is it going to be the end of the road for Rahul Gandhi on June 4?

New Delhi: As India prepares for election results on June 4, many believe that while the BJP-led NDA may see a reduction in seat numbers, the Congress-led INDIA alliance is unlikely to come to power.

The major personalities in these elections are Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. If Modi wins and forms the government, he will join the ranks of powerful and popular politicians who have won three consecutive general elections after Jawaharlal Nehru. Conversely, if the Congress-led INDIA alliance fails to secure a mandate, it will be a significant loss not only for the Congress party but also for its leader, Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi entered politics in 2004, winning the Lok Sabha seat from the Gandhi bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. However, the political landscape changed dramatically over the next decade. After a humiliating electoral loss for his party in 2014, securing only 44 seats, Rahul Gandhi never evolved into a hardcore politician. He even lost his seat to political novice Smriti Irani in 2019 and chose not to contest in Amethi again, opting instead for the safer seat of Wayanad for the 2024 elections. The 2014 electoral loss marked the beginning of the decline for the Congress party, and the 2019 loss signaled the beginning of the end for Rahul as a leader. In any political party across the world, if its president/leader fails to secure an electoral victory, they generally get one more chance, maybe two. However, unlike any other political party, the Congress party has been trying desperately to launch Rahul Gandhi since 2004 in various capacities.

Despite nearly two decades of efforts, the Grand Old Party's heir has been unable to capture the imagination of the party, let alone the country's population. Despite 60% of the Indian electorate voting for parties other than the Narendra Modi-led BJP, yet the Congress party's fortunes have dwindled election by election under Rahul Gandhi's leadership. After a humiliating consecutive loss in 2019, Rahul Gandhi stepped down as party general secretary, writing a lengthy letter to the party high command stating that he was unable to lead the party to victory. However, as expected, the party once again invested in its failed captain. Immediately after Rahul Gandhi's resignation, his mother Sonia Gandhi was made interim Congress party president, and later, the loyal Mallikarjun Kharge became president of the Congress party.

Despite a non-Gandhi family member becoming the party president after nearly three decades, the entire party still depended on Rahul Gandhi, showcasing him as the face of the party for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections and other state elections. Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra is considered one more desperate attempt to relaunch him as the party face, undermining the presidency of Mallikarjun Kharge. The Bharat Jodo Yatra did not make a significant impact on Indian politics, except for one or two state election victories, which were unjustly attributed to the Yatra instead of the strong local leadership efforts. There has been a mass exodus of young leaders who said Rahul's so-called Bharat Jodo Yatra was merely a political stunt where he never spoke to real people, which dented the initial buzz about the Yatra's political dividends. Many leaders also raised concerns earlier, questioning why Rahul Gandhi was busy with his PR Yatra while the party was left alone to fight elections in Gujarat.

Any political enthusiast can effortlessly say that the trajectory of Rahul Gandhi's political journey has been linear, not horizontal, in terms of growth. Repeated attempts to launch a failed captain due to the Congress party's organizational compulsions have cost the party dearly. On the other hand, the BJP, with its formidable organizational, media, and social media power, has successfully branded Rahul Gandhi as a failed leader and utilized every opportunity to weaken his image further. In his first 10 years in the party, Rahul Gandhi failed to provide any specific and strong direction to the aging party, except for attempting to revive the party's youth and student wings with ideas like creating a think tank and introducing internal elections.

Rahul also tried to propagate ideas like rural development, women empowerment, employment, and income guarantees for the poor but failed to establish any specific policy framework within the government in their 10-year rule. He missed great opportunities to gain administrative experience and make a mark as a new-generation leader in government. These missed opportunities did not pave a new way for the party or the government during their decade in power. His leadership ideas became more chaotic post-2014 disastrous election results. Instead of reviving the Congress party against the BJP's Hindutva ideology, Rahul Gandhi seemed confused and fearful of his initial vociferous anti-Hindutva stance. His transition from being anti-Hindutva to a "Janyarhari Brahman" disappointed anti-BJP sections in the Indian political spectrum. From hugging Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha after a series of heated political debates to the "Love Dukan" mascot, every effort of Rahul Gandhi led to more confusion within the party and its sympathizers. The slogans and ideas that Rahul Gandhi propagated, from "Chowkidar Chor Hai" to targeting Adani, also added further problems to the party's political line. Even a few opposition leaders often take a dig at Rahul by saying, "For BJP, Rahul Gandhi is their biggest brahmastra and their biggest political pawn in the BJP's game due to his political ideas and their implementation within the party and his expression about them in public forums." Rahul never missed an opportunity to give enough ammunition to the BJP with his remarks, be it on national security, Pakistan, Hindutva, etc. It is also observed by the political ecosystem that except for Karnataka, wherever there has been a direct BJP vs. Congress fight, the BJP has always taken the lead, which clearly shows the track record of his leadership.

The formation and rebranding of the UPA as the INDIA alliance also had numerous strategic flaws due to Congress party leadership. Despite creating a buzz in political circles with the announcement of the INDIA alliance, the Congress party focused entirely on Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra instead of strengthening the regional forces within the alliance to provide an ideological base for the elections and prepare for the uphill task of defeating the formidable BJP in the 2024 general elections. The initial plans of the INDIA alliance to offer an alternative narrative and slogans and an ideological base to counter the BJP politics for the general elections did not take off well. The entire Congress party machinery invested heavily in rebranding Rahul Gandhi 3.0 before the crucial general elections, leading to lackluster planning in strengthening the INDIA alliance, which has become a significant advantage for the BJP in the current elections. Rahul Gandhi missed an opportunity to prove himself as a fighter by not taking on his political opponent in Amethi, Smriti Irani, choosing not to contest, which made him appear afraid of losing the election.

The entire BJP leadership utilized this opportunity to propagate that the Congress is losing its strongholds, like Amethi. This narrative damaged Rahul Gandhi's image as a fighter. Technically, Rahul Gandhi may not be the official face of the Congress party and the INDIA alliance, but people, media, and the BJP itself consider Rahul Gandhi as its primary political rival. This narrative will be a significant disadvantage for Rahul Gandhi post-2024 elections if the INDIA alliance under the Congress party leadership fails to secure enough seats to form the government. If Congress fails to form the government at the center, the clamor within the organization will be even louder, as many senior political leaders, like Ghulam Nabi Azad, left the Congress party, or sidelined themselves due to forced family rule and differences with Rahul Gandhi's approach to taking on the BJP and Modi. It seems the BJP and other political outfits have already started creating a narrative that post-2024 elections, Rahul Gandhi should take a break from repeatedly relaunching himself as an alternative to Narendra Modi. Many independent political analysts and media personalities also believe that the continuous forced relaunching of Rahul Gandhi will cost the entire opposition bloc significantly. Even if Rahul Gandhi manages to win a few more seats than the lowest tally in the party's history, it will not make a substantial difference in reviving the Brand Rahul Gandhi. This election is a do-or-die situation for his political career as a prime ministerial challenger. If the BJP fails to form its government, which seems unlikely due to the weak opposition bloc, the future of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party will become a major talking point across the political spectrum in the country. The question is whether the Gandhi brand, ingrained in the party's DNA, can survive without the Gandhi family at its helm. Will the party be able to thrive with a non-Gandhi leader? In any case, it may signal the end of the Gandhi era not only in Congress but also in Indian politics as an alternative to the BJP if the party fails to form the government.

About the Author:

Dr. Manikya Mahesh has 17 years of media experience and is a senior research fellow PhD in Communication and Journalism Studies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of NewsMeter.

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