At a time when a man from an extremely humble background has risen through sheer hard work to become one of the most popular and inspiring leaders that India has seen, for his opponents to believe that their own lineage even matters to the people, is akin to being clueless. When it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you are up against, to tell the world that you are a cut above him because of your family is terrible electoral strategy. Worse, the Gandhi siblings seem to actually believe it, which shows how they lack an understanding of how the ground has changed over time. A Gandhi does not apologise, like Savarkar does, Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference on Saturday. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra followed it up by speaking of sacrifices that her family has made for the country. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari was more explicit—Rahul Gandhi should be treated differently in the expulsion case because of his family history. Presumably he is above the law and should not be expelled from the Lok Sabha even after being sentenced to jail for two years in a criminal defamation case. For all of them it’s about the family. They don’t realise how entitled this makes them sound and how off-putting it can be to people, unless they are hard core Congress supporters, provided such people still exist. No one is taking away from the sacrifices made by the Gandhis. But what have the current crop of Gandhis done so that voters should take them seriously? Their track record in politics does not inspire confidence. The brother-sister duo has been decimated in almost every election they have fought. They have been launched and relaunched multiple times, in vain. The occasional victories that come Congress’ way in certain states are not because of the Gandhis. These are in spite of the Gandhis, who do not like a strong leadership even in the states—forget about Delhi—lest they pose a challenge to the family. These victories happen because of the few state-level leaders still left in the party and the hard work they put in. When the UPA was in power, what was Rahul Gandhi’s biggest contribution? Possibly, tearing up the ordinance that wanted to prevent the immediate disqualification of MPs after conviction, because of which he is in so much trouble now.
This sense of entitlement was on full display on Saturday when he snapped at a journalist for asking a simple question on what his reaction was to the BJP’s charge that he was anti OBC. He labelled the journalist, who is a long-time Congress beat reporter, a BJP stooge, and then mocked him by saying “hawa nikal gayi” (you have been deflated now). It’s as if asking Rahul Gandhi a question he does not like is a crime and the person asking the question has to be snubbed in full public view. Is this how Rahul Gandhi goes about winning friends? Sadly, that momentary outburst says more about him than any long speech that he makes at rallies or in Parliament. He should not forget that people are watching and in this age of social media, every misstep gets magnified and disseminated all over in a matter of minutes. And it was a legitimate question, for the BJP will go full throttle by making it a campaign issue—that Rahul Gandhi is anti OBC.
The fact that he got angry instead of giving a reply showed that he was unprepared and that his mangers were yet to chalk out a strategy to counter such a grave charge. This says a lot even about the preparedness, or the lack of it, of the party to counter BJP’s campaign.
But all this will come later, even finding a proper strategy to counter the BJP. The immediate need is a change of mindset—the need to understand that in 21st century India, performance counts, not pedigree.