The defeat of ten prominent State Congress leaders in Gujarat Assembly polls, including Shakti Sinh Gohil, Sidharth Patel, Arjun Modwadia and others, is most bizarre as their victory would have brought the Congress closer to the half way mark. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi’s move to give tickets to some JD(U) aspirants, Muslims and supporters of Alpesh Thakor proved costly as most lost their seats. Clearly there is a lesson for the new AICC chief that unless the party organisation is not in a position to convert half chances into victories, the Congress success story will remain elusive.
The Gujarat election outcome has a serious, significant message for newly crowned Congress president. Rahul may have emerged a credible leader, capable of throwing a leadership challenge to a towering Narendra Modi, but his task remains somewhat insurmountable.
Rahul would have done better in owning the Gujarat poll responsibility by addressing a press conference at 24 Akbar Road on December 18 afternoon instead of Ashok Gehlot. Rahul's candid admissions and acceptance of party's collective failure in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh would have exhibited his leadership qualities.
In Gujarat, Rahul did well both in terms of stitching alliances with influential caste leaders and drawing crowds. But a robust booth management, good Gujarati language orators, well-oiled party organisation and killer instincts were missing. Lack of resources was another issue that made a crucial difference between the winner and loser.
Rahul needs to communicate better. Issues like dragging Pakistan and Kashmir into Gujarat Assembly election may have put the Congress on a disadvantage, but Rahul needs to take the issue of reclaiming the country's pluralistic, democratic values beyond drawing rooms and TV news studios. Rahul would be better off in using a defunct but massive Congress party machinery to counter what he describes as a "dangerous, divisive" agenda. Also he needs to champion the cause of farming crisis and unemployment with determination and some counter narrative and perhaps solutions.
Rahul Gandhi had opted for a high risk campaign in Gujarat in spite of knowing he was pitted against a formidable foe. The gameplan was to somehow pitch himself at par with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rahul was successful in doing so.
The script of Rahul's ‘go all out on Gujarat’ was readied six months ago when technocrat Sam Pitroda reportedly gave a paper to Rahul highlighting how the State had a potential to change. Next Rahul was seen holding parleys with lower and middle rung Congress leaders from Gujarat. In the meeting, Congress leaders reportedly complained about lack of access and the whimsical ways in which the central high command treated them. Rahul is said to have assured them of "100 per cent support" provided the state leadership matches his efforts.
Rahul does not face any immediate threat from within the Congress parivar. Average Congressman is hugely indebted to Sonia Gandhi for giving them back to back victories in 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The faithful have a belief that Rahul may repeat Sonia's feat. It may be recalled that when Sonia took over as the party chief in 1998, the Congress was in power in just three states and there was a similar sense of despondency all over.
Rahul however needs to work out the terms of broadening the party's social base. There is acute dearth of any think tank affiliated to the Congress. As a result, the party does not get big ideas nor is it able to engage policymakers, thinkers, writers, retired bureaucrats, etc. For instance in the global context, Rahul's Congress has little presence overseas or even a mechanism to interact with the diplomatic corps stationed in New Delhi.