In Defense of Rahul Gandhi's Sabbatical

(Pawan Khera is a political analyst with the Congress party.)

Rahul Gandhi's decision to go on a sabbatical to introspect came as a shock to political observers. An immediate interpretation about his lack of interest in politics was made. Observers who not so long ago gleefully used the so-called Jayanthi bombshell to blame him for 'interfering' in the functioning of the UPA government are now labeling him as a reluctant politician. It is the tragedy of our times that we are so used to leaders who are desperate to come to power that if someone does not show that desperation, he or she is dismissed as disinterested in politics. Apart from desiring and acquiring power, there is also something called deserving power. If someone chooses to ignore the hackneyed trajectory of his bloodline, and attempts instead to deserve his place, there is certainly much more in him than just the bloodline.

Losing elections is as common to political parties as winning them. The post-defeat 'chinta-chintan' culture does little to either diagnose the problem or prescribe the cure, as sycophancy and survival become the underlying instincts of doctors, compounders and quacks of a political party.

There comes a time in the life of every individual and organization when difficult but fundamental questions need to be answered. The Congress party is going through the worst electoral reversals. A transition, not just from the old to the young, but a transition of ideas is underway at several levels in every political party. Narendra Modi found the transition easy by creating a dysfunctional 'Marg Darshak Mandal' (panel of advisors) and relegating an entire generation of senior leadership to it. It helped that he won the elections and has a big brother in the RSS to tame voices of dissent.

The Congress has a different dilemma. Rahul Gandhi is being seen as the next president of a party whose systems he has been struggling to set right. A defeat of this magnitude is bound to evoke existential angst. Where are we going wrong? Do we need to revisit our fundamentals? There are conflicting answers. When the party lost the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it was said that the rights-based pro-poor policies cost us dear. Nine months later, the Aam Aadmi Party rides the dole bandwagon to win the Delhi elections with an unprecedented majority, demolishing both the argument of 2014 and those who used the argument to win 2014.

Commentator after commentator convincingly accused the Congress leadership of remote-controlling the Manmohan Singh government. As if it is a crime for the party to monitor the implementation of the very promises which it had made during elections and which brought it to power. The National Advisory Council (NAC) was labeled an extra-constitutional body that imposed its agenda on the elected government   as if the NAC agenda was anti-people or in contradiction with the party's manifesto. As if the RSS, whose office-bearers sit with the Education Minister to decide the menu of IIT canteens, is an elected body helping the government implement the BJP's manifesto. The Congress was punished, they say, because it did not act on charges of corruption. As if removing a Chief Minister and two cabinet ministers, even without their guilt having been proved was ever done by any other government in the past.

To be able to comprehend the macro, it is important to step away from the micro for a while. Managers, and not leaders, grapple with the here and now. A leader has to pause and reflect to deconstruct the discourse and decide if there is a need for course correction. The timing of Rahul Gandhi's decision to take a break from party work is being questioned on the following grounds:

a) The budget session of Parliament will attempt to pass the Land Acquisition Ordinance which dilutes the pro-farmer Act.

b) Anna Hazare is sitting on a dharna to oppose this dilution of the Act envisaged and pushed by the NAC and Rahul Gandhi under the UPA government.

The Congress Parliamentary Party has able heads to scuttle any attempt by the government to secure the passage of the Ordinance. Anna Hazare, who chose to remain silent when the UPA was struggling to pass the very Act which he is now protesting to protect, does not want Rahul Gandhi to join him in the protest, but does not mind sharing the dais with Arvind Kejriwal.

What Rahul Gandhi is grappling with is far more fundamental and crucial. He is being expected to take charge of the party at a time when the very idea of Congress and all that it stands for faces a question mark. He must comprehend the questions and find answers. And it can only be done by stepping away from blinding spotlights and deafening cacophony.

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