There may still be a remote possibility to save the Congress, if Rahul Gandhi can take full command and get his mother to retire completely. Sonia Gandhi must let go if her son has to succeed and deliver
The other day, in an article in The Indian Express, Mani Shankar Aiyar described Rahul Gandhi as King Lear, bemoaning — or was it mocking? — the misfortunes that plague the Congress. However, a more apt comparison of Rahul Gandhi would be Hamlet.
Let me explain.
The drama unfolding in the Rajasthan Congress is resembling the tragedy of the play Hamlet, with a difference. The actor playing Hamlet is absconding.
Rahul Gandhi — not for the first time — is missing in action. The phrase is reported to have gained coinage when it was first reported that the actor who was to play the hero Hamlet’s part eloped with the innkeeper's daughter on the night the play was enacted.
Rahul has not strictly vanished as used to be his wont. He is around, taking potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Chinese intrusions in Ladakh. Rahul is firing salvos after salvos, through his Twitter gun.
Alas, he is not present where he should be, where it matters. This is crunch time and he should transplant from Twitter to Jaipur.
Rahul Gandhi’s criticisms may be valid, but they become comical when one notices that his house is on fire. His laser focus now must be on saving his government in Rajasthan.
Rahul had the woeful reputation, even before he was anointed Congress President, of suddenly vanishing and becoming incommunicado. Intentionally or not, they were an escape from the rough and tumble of politics at crucial times — often during parliamentary debates and voting on important Bills, which he had himself on occasion championed during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) days.
There were uncharitable jibes in social media that he had escaped to the watering holes in Europe or pristine islands in South East Asia. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joked that Rahul is the gift that Congress keeps on giving to Modi and the BJP. As long as someone like him — who lacks the killer instinct —helms the Congress, the BJP will have a walkover in elections. Others alleged he's a part-time politician, a dilettante. He gives up easily and throws in the towel, and doesn't fight to the finish.The Reluctant Prince
Rahul Gandhi is none of these. He is a reluctant prince. A Hamlet who is assailed by doubts, struggling with philosophical uncertainties — to be or not to be, to stay in politics or walk away, to lead his party or let it founder, to wear the crown or abdicate the throne.
However, he's not shallow. Anyone who has heard him on serious matters can gauge that he has depth and breadth. He may still not have mastered the game of realpolitik and may lack the ability to deftly navigate the treacherous minefields of venal politics, but he has helped deliver victories in five states, snatching it away from the BJP, against overwhelming odds. Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were no mean victories. He has now lost two of those states on the trot and Rajasthan is now on the verge of collapse.
After the ignominious defeat in the last parliament elections, Rahul resigned from his post as head of the party. Many said it was all a play and he would take back his resignation. However, he was resolute. That’s a laudable action.
That's probably also when the travails of the Congress resurfaced. The party was rudderless and bereft of leadership.
The old guard, the so-called coterie around Sonia Gandhi, hoisted her back to power. Sonia is the de facto supremo though not the de jure of the Congress.
May be the mother has been the problem all along. Even when he was president, the old cronies still deferred to her. They had access and influence through her. The son, discrete, respectful and gracious, did not disregard or veto the mother; and acquiesced to accommodate the dead wood in the party. Dual centres of power are inherently flawed and often fatal.
Now that the party flock — the old and young — are not letting go of the dynasty and the grand old party may simply dissipate fulfilling the wish and dreaded prophesy of Modi, Rahul might as well step in swiftly and take over the reins of the party and save it from disgrace and collapse.Mother, That’s Enough!
There may still be a remote possibility to save the party, if he can take full command and get his mother to retire completely. Sonia must let go if her son Rahul has to succeed and deliver. She must realise mothering a son over 50 will undermine his leadership.
Rahul may have committed gaffes and erred, and come across as irresponsible and often reluctant just as Hamlet appeared to many. Hamlet’s uncle King Claudius thought his nephew to be strange too and couldn't understand him.
In the end, however, he outwitted King Claudius and avenged his father's death.Rahul may well remember and take a cue from these lines from another play of Shakespeare:
There's a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune,
Omitted all their voyage of life,
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea we are now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
Since the destiny of Congress is now entwined with the ‘dynasty’, if Rahul does not take the tide at the flood, the fortunes of both the Congress and the dynasty may founder in the shallow seas.(GR Gopinath is the founder of Air Deccan. Views are personal.)