If there is one thing the second surge of the Covid outbreak has thrown up it is questions around the current leadership style. As the WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan said, what is needed is strong leadership that is based on science and data – not grandstanding and rhetorical flourishes. The fact that the BJP did not sweep West Bengal the same way it did Uttar Pradesh post-demonetisation has sent its own wake-up call to the saffron party. But the larger question of national leadership remains.
Now, whenever the Prime Minister’s leadership model is called into question, be it post the CAA riots, post the GST rollout or regarding the sad state of the economy, the troll army of the BJP is very quick to swing into attack mode and target Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Suddenly, all of social media from Twitter to WhatsApp is full of posts lampooning and ridiculing Rahul, trying to prove one simple point: that however bad the PM may be, Rahul Gandhi is much worse. And hence, because there is no alternative, Modi will prevail.
We are already seeing glimmers of this narrative after the Assembly polls where the Congress lost Kerala despite Rahul Gandhi’s focus on the state. But that is clearly an internal Congress problem. It is up to the party to decide if it wants to continue with Rahul despite his inability to win elections or not. India has larger problems on its plate and it would be best not to get distracted by the trolls.
The larger question remains: is this really the catch-22 before India? Are our choices limited to Modi and Rahul only? Don’t the two national parties have alternatives? And, more importantly, what about other regional leaders? Since this is a conversation that is being had after the West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu polls, it is quite clear that answers to India’s national leadership crisis can also be found at the regional level. Even Tamil Nadu tells a heartening story where the DMK did well but the AIADMK was not decimated as expected. The former CM EPS had built a narrative of governance that stood him in good stead and may have warded off the entry of the more flamboyant Sasikala, who may have more power and funds but whose governance model is yet to be tested.
We have seen successful coalitions on both sides of the aisle from the United Front, National Front, the UPA and the NDA. What is stopping another such formation, propped, but not led, by the Congress? Already there is talk that Mamata Bannerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Arvind Kejriwal and Sharad Pawar are exploring some options with the help of ace strategist Prashant Kishor. In fact, given the current experiment, it is clear that a coalition rather than an outright majority suits India’s needs much better. It does not need to be led by an expert or a Supreme Leader. Rather the leader of such a coalition has to be one who is a consensus man in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mode, a man who is not afraid to take the advice of experts as Narasimha Rao did to ward off the economic crisis, and a man who is humble yet inspires the confidence of not just India but also the global community. Dr Manmohan Singh comes to mind here.
We have had these ordinary men performing ordinary tasks that have kept the ship of the state going. We do not need a Supreme Leader, we do not need a vote-winning machine. All we need is someone to set systems in place, ensure they are implemented and keep us all alive. Surely that is not too much of an ask?