This past weekend saw yet another political earthquake, this time from the three Northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland.
Tripura, in particular, heralded a spectacular electoral tsunami the likes of which hasn’t been seen in contemporary Indian history- a direct transfer from left to right. BJP’s ruthless organizational machinery trounced the archaic CPI(M) cadre.
While this in itself is extraordinary- given BJP polled under 2% in the 2013 Assembly election, the biggest loser after the left in this weekend’s slugfest was the Grand Old Party led by Rahul Gandhi. They drew a blank across Tripura and Nagaland and managed to lose a power tussle with Himanta Biswa Sarma and Conrad Sangma in Meghalaya (despite being the largest party post elections).
Curiously, Mr. Gandhi was on holiday through the weekend and did not make any public comments until Monday, nearly forty-eight hours after the blowout. It is amazing how he continues to miss the stupendously low benchmarks we have set for him. Instead of postponing his visit to after the results announcement, he chose what he is known best for-escapism. In the crucial hours after the Meghalaya elections, the duty for negotiations and government formation was delegated to senior functionaries of the party. And in his absence, Congress old guards took to television channels across the country, trying to explain yet another electoral debacle.
After facing defeat in election polls, his own cadre could not look for words of encouragement from their party president. In recent months, he is quick to latch on to their success during rare bypoll elections in BJP run states and even quicker to duck the hard questions after defeat. If Mr. Gandhi is projecting himself as an alternative Prime Ministerial candidate, his own leadership style in the immediate months following his coronation has been far from inspiring.
In fact, even recent bypoll victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have largely been heralded by the impressive young turks of his party in the likes of Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Even the much heralded moral victory in Gujarat should be credited to the troika of youth leaders to whom the entire Gujarat campaign was largely outsourced. With few minor exceptions, Mr. Gandhi’s electoral record cuts a sorrier picture than his own leadership style, and time is running out for him to prove his mettle.
To be clear, there has been a marked improvement in his social media engagement over the past few months, but this is largely due to the pathetically low expectations he has set for himself over the course of his public life. His twitter posts while spiffy and acerbic, are distractions from his inability to project a clear alternative leadership vision to the country.
Several opportunities were missed over the course of the past few weeks alone, most glaringly, his inability to take on the Prime Minister’s budget address in parliament. The country was left waiting for a vociferous defense of Nehruvian socialism and liberalism from its standard bearer. Instead, they got a scurrying leader tweeting or providing equally unthoughtful quotes to the media outside parliament. A similarly defensive tweet was sent out in the aftermath of the Meghalaya elections.
2019 is fast approaching, and we are yet to see a clear choice. While I am a supporter of the government and will likely vote for the ruling party a second time, I do not wish for us to become a one-party state with no clear alternatives. Unlike the primary opposition party, we elect leaders to public office and don’t coronate royalty. If the Prince of 24 Akbar Road is not up to the challenge, the party has a moral responsibility to the electorate to project an alternative candidate.