India Gandhi was unceremoniously ousted from power in 1977 after she had blotted her copybook by imposing Emergency on the country. Faced with a hostile regime and the burden of an errant son, Sanjay Gandhi, who dented her image as well, it was inconceivable that she would return to power within three years. She won 353 seats with over 42% votes in the parliamentary election in 1980, decimating her challengers and wiping out the ignominy of curtaining democracy. This magic became possible in such a short period because Indira relied on her main strength – connecting with the people – instead of looking for tricks to resolve political questions. The Gandhi family’s inability to learn from Indira is their nemesis. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi inherited a glorious legacy but refused to learn from their grandmother’s politics. The circumstances are undoubtedly far more hostile today; with Narendra Modi as a formidable rival and the political realities being unfavourable to Congress, but there is no denying the fact that Rahul and Priyanka haven’t done what Indira would have done in such a situation. Little wonder, they are hankering for easier options. Tragically, they haven’t reached the right conclusions after two successive defeats at general elections. Instead of realising that Congress is not doing basic politics, they are now getting into a delusional trap. If tricks and slogans could win elections, the tycoons have enough resources to hire the best tricksters. There is more to politics than strategy and the inability to understand this basic fact has prevented Congress revival in most states. If the Congress thinks election consultant Prashant Kishor can turn the tide for the party, it is living in a fool’s paradise. If Mamata Banerjee won Bengal, it is because her party was there in every nook and corner of the state. It was willing to fight. Trinamool Congress didn’t win because of strategies; don’t credit nut and bolt for the power generated by the engine. Nut and bolt are important but come into relevance only when the engine is powerful and functional. The Congress can’t win Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, or Delhi because it has stopped doing politics there. It is about the body, not the cap. Build a strong body and then buy a fancy cap.
The interest of the top Congress leadership in Prashant Kishor betrays a crisis of politics. While the consultant has publicly questioned Rahul Gandhi’s credentials and demonstrated no ideological commitment, how can Congress think of accommodating him in the party with a critical assignment? If you are interested in his professional skills, hire him for a specific job. But a key party post can only be given to a person who is committed to secular democracy and has the experience in handling organisational complexities. If Kishor had any moral qualms about communalism, why did he work with RSS-BJP? One can understand domain experts suggesting a good slogan or providing feedback from the ground based on surveys, how can an apolitical person dictate terms on organisational restructuring to leaders who spent their life building organisations? Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, or Priyanka Gandhi – whoever is backing Kishor – should understand that the boy from the diagnostics centre comes home to take the blood sample, not to run the household.
What Congressmen need is to spread out and connect with the people throughout the year. Election-time splurge yields nothing when the RSS-BJP works daily and is constantly assisted by the state machinery, media, and multiple associated outfits. An organised campaign is a necessity but that can be effective only along with sound politics. A party that didn’t have a president for three years and the ceremonial head got activated only after unbearable electoral losses has to first deal with the self-destructive impulses. Crying about institutional capture, media biases, communal ambiance, and big money is no solution. Political parties have to fight to remove every hurdle on the way. It can’t dream of a level playing field. Politics has to be done by politicians alone; consultants and strategies play only a supportive and peripheral role. A party that is born out of the freedom struggle should have known this better than others. A party that learnt mass mobilisation from Mahatma Gandhi should know how to connect with the people directly instead of grudging against biased media. A party that has risen from the ashes several times in the past should learn from Indira Gandhi, not Prashant Kishor.