Evolving Beyond the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Politics of Rahul Gandhi

 



Wayanad Member of Parliament (MP) and one of the most important faces of the Congress Party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, has failed to create a dent on India’s political scene, despite much going for him. People continue to undermine his credibility despite three terms in Parliament now. While many outsiders have chosen to fish in troubled waters often, it is important for us to reflect and contemplate just why his politics fails to resonate with the people. Much of the answer unfortunately seems to resonate with a famous book called Alice in Wonderland, written nearly two centuries ago by the famed mathematician Lewis Caroll.

 

Terrible Politics over COVID, Talking in Echo Chambers

Rahul Gandhi’s disconnect is unmistakable. His politics over COVID however has been marred by nothing less than chaos and bizarre behaviour. Continued contradictions seem to mark his approach – from asking for lockdown to asking for its quick reopening; from raising questions on PM-CARES to raising questions on vaccines, there is no moment that the Wayanad MP has spared to make vacuous points with much force. This is eerily similar to what the Caterpillar had told Alice - I’ve something important to say! – only to end up saying something banal, unwarranted or absolutely vile that only generates criticism.

Even with the recent letter of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi was quick to jump the gun, but one wonders why he does not request his own party men in power in several states to heed to the ‘sagely advice’ of Dr. Singh. Is it because he himself does not value it? Similarly, his multiple chats with ‘eminent thinkers’ has only gone to show him as someone who only chooses to preach from the pulpit, even as his own state governments choose to tread a path divergent from this position on multiple occasions.

 

Politics is No Mad Tea Party, Rhetoric Echoing Elitism for Common People

Politics is no Mad Tea Party where people can get away with rudeness. A glimpse at the nature of tweets in the past fifteen days is sufficient to affirm the claim. Jumlebaaz, Prachar Mantri, attack on institutions with impeccable credibility like the Central Election Commission, and even the ghastly Chowkidar Chor Hai used earlier – this is not language that a senior leader, and a potential Prime Minister in waiting should ever stoop down to.

Civility towards the Opposition in public life despite disagreements is necessary. To keep one’s hardcore voter base elated with such rhetoric has a huge cost – the alienation of the ordinary centrist voter. Someone needs to tell Mr. Gandhi, as Alice had said to the Mad Hatter - You should learn not to make personal remarks; it’s very rude!

This angry, mealy rhetoric is perceived as a sign of rudeness and entitlement, a tag which today’s Indian voters view negatively. An impression of a man cocooned in his ivory tower and driven to anger and jealousy due to lack of power has consistently been played out by the Opposition. Sadly, this stereotype keeps getting reinforced. A prominent example of the same was seen in the post-defeat sulk where all senior leaders were blamed angrily for pushing for tickets for their sons, an absolutely unfair charge instead of accepting collective failure. A muddled rhetoric was just as responsible for the defeat. Instead of that realization, all we heard was the Queen of Hearts screaming “Off with her head!”


No Captain to Steer the Ship, Forcing a Showdown by Veterans

Leaders fight out crises, internal and external, instead of abandoning the race midway. Often times, Mr. Gandhi has been seen leaving the country when the party needed his leadership and guidance the most. Even a sinking ship is graced with its captain, but India’s grand old party is rudderless, unguided like a mad Caucus race, where, as Lewis Caroll had remarked, “they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over.”

Such actions not only lead to reduced public respect – it also demoralizes cadre immensely. Lack of direction translates into insipid campaigning and electioneering, and this fuzziness has cost the party dearly twice, being reduced to a party of 40-60 seat mark. Politics has never been about making guest appearances like movies; rather, one needs to constantly strive on the ground to convince the neutral minded, undecided voters to side with you.

This very behaviour has forced veterans in the Congress to stand up and point out the party’s missteps. It is ironic that despite stalwarts as Dr. Manmohan Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel and Captain Amarinder Singh to guide the party, there is organizational listlessness. Accountability has become an excuse to cover up shortcomings and a tool to target those seeking change for the better. That is the only way to describe what is going on with the senior leaders dubbed the G-23 of the party. Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it, the Duchess had told Alice, which when paraphrased for Mr. Gandhi would go something like – everyone but I is to blame, so long as I can assign it.


Ideological Muddle Exacerbates the Problem

This is one battle that causes the party more blushes than anything else more often. There seems to be only one adversary, and a ‘whatever it takes’ strategy to defeat the adversary. As a result, often the party walks into a disaster of its own making, as it starts to cede space, state after state. The rise of the Trinamool Congress, jaw-jaw fight-fight with the Left front in Bengal and Kerala, or ceding space to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi turned out to be cardinal mistakes, and making a comeback has now become a Herculean task. Even in Maharashtra, after opposing the Shiv Sena ideologically and politically for more than five decades, Congress joins hands with the party, and continues to support a government literally falling between the stools ever so frequently.

Much of the Congress’ problems will persist if this leadership style does not end. Politics is no Alice in Wonderland where multiple wondrous characters of all hues can run amok. Instead, politics today is driven by the pragmatism of avoiding poor rhetoric and engaging and joining hands with adversaries in national interest when needed. However, this realization seems to still not have dawned on Mr. Gandhi. One can only hope that Mr. Gandhi can break from the past and deliver on the potential, and ensure that the party comes out of this rabbit hole before it is too late.


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