One consequence of doing political commentary in an age when the government does not take kindly to criticism is that it becomes difficult to speak truth to power.
Far easier, then, to speak truth to the powerless. So each time an Opposition party faces a crisis or suffers a setback, the TV channels and commentators are at it again. Aren’t things in a terrible way? Who do we blame for this latest problem? Shouldn’t heads roll? And so on.
Fortunately for the media, the Congress is always ready with a crisis or two so that the Commentariat can stay in business. And the old questions about the future of young leaders, about the increasing irrelevance of the Congress, about the evils of dynasty, etc. are tiresomely recycled day after day, night after night.
The announcement that Jitin Prasada is joining the BJP should raise as many questions about the BJP as about the Congress. After all, Prasada’s exit is no surprise. He had been on the verge of a similar journey two years ago. And while he is a bright, decent, personable and competent person, his exit will not have an earth-shattering effect on the Congress.
On the other hand, that the BJP should choose to gleefully welcome him raises several questions. Prasada is from a political family. His father was Political Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi. His upbringing has been full of privilege: he is what the BJP would normally describe as a key member of the ‘Lutyens Elite.’ This may have been fine when he was in the Congress, where none of these things matter. But how does the BJP reconcile his arrival with its own professed hatred of dynasty and its campaign against what it calls the ‘Lutyens Elite’? And how about the air of privilege that surrounds such men as Prasada, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot, who the BJP also tried so hard to recruit?
It could be that the BJP has decided that dynasty is not such a bad thing after all. And that there is much to love and admire about what it once regarded as the privileged Lutyens class. It is instructive that when Prasada was welcomed into the BJP, his Doon School background was mentioned in favourable terms. So perhaps this is the new BJP, a party that genuflects before privilege. But if this is indeed the case, then I think we should be told.
There is another factor. The BJP, unlike the Congress, which has always been all things to all people, has focussed on preserving a distinct identity. When it starts accepting defectors from other parties, especially those who have previously attacked the Hindutva project, it risks losing that identity. We saw this in West Bengal where wholesale purchases were made of large chunks of the Trinamool Congress. In the process, the BJP’s loyal, long-time workers were demoralised, and voters began to wonder how different the BJP really was if it was willing to embrace the very people it had once attacked. The result was a humiliating election defeat.
As far as the Congress is concerned, Prasada’s exit is a sideshow. It has been clear for the last two years that the model of leadership chosen by Rahul Gandhi had failed. Rahul had surrounded himself with people like himself: young, Western-educated, smart, dynasts; the sons of older Congress leaders. While at an individual level, many of these people were competent and honest, the image they collectively conveyed was that of a party of entitled dynasts, or, to borrow Romesh Thapar’s devastating phrase from the 1980s, the party of the ‘babalog’. Rahul has ditched this model, though perhaps he has not been as candid about it as he should have been. Many of the young dynasts who regarded themselves as integral members of his team felt betrayed and upset by their sudden fall from favour; several of them say that promises made to them were not kept Further, they argue, it is not as though Rahul has replaced them with competent or smart people. He has chosen badly, surrounding himself with sycophants who flatter him and talk tough – a strategy that always appeals to troubled leaders. There is not one person in his inner circle who dares tell him when he is wrong, they claim.
So whether Prasada stays or goes makes no difference to the Congress. As far as Rahul is concerned, he is yesterday’s man. But the Congress’s real problem is not the young dynasts. It is that Rahul Gandhi still has not got the hang of fighting elections or of handling people. The Congress lost Assam, where it should have won, and the party is still not quite sure how that happened. In the case of Kerala, the defeat appears to have been a direct consequence of factional politics and poor leadership. The internal tussles had long been discussed and yet, the Congress did nothing. Worst of all is the way the party has handled Punjab. This is one state where the Congress has no real Opposition. The Prime Minister’s charisma does not seem to extend to Punjab, the Akali Dal is still floundering, and the ancient BJP-Akali alliance has broken. It is also the one state where electoral victory has less to do with national factors than with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s personal popularity. And yet, even in Punjab, with elections only a few months away, there is dissent and rebellion. Instead of firmly putting down the revolt, Delhi has encouraged the rebels and undermined the Chief Minister’s authority.
That is the real crisis of the Congress. Nobody expects it to win UP (where Prasada is from). But they did expect it to win Kerala and Assam. And nobody ever imagined it would become its own Opposition in Punjab. Dynasts will come and go. But the real danger to the Congress comes not from a privileged elite or even, the BJP. It comes from the inability of its leadership to manage the party.
(Vir Sanghvi is a journalist and TV anchor.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.