Congress president Rahul Gandhi might have learnt the art of electioneering and rhetoric that appeals to the anti-BJP forces, but the country is yet to see him donning the garb of a pragmatic politician who makes himself visible during crises. The Congress chief was a picture of confidence while leading his party's hectic campaign in Karnataka and his clever handling of the media during a last-minute press meet in Karnataka earned him accolades for evolving into a matured politician capable of countering the BJP's aggressiveness with his calm and charm.
However, as often in the past, this time around too, the Gandhi scion forced his admirers, existing and prospective ones, to reverse their perception about him with his unpardonable absence in the forefront at a time when the entire nation had its eyes glued on the game of thrones in Karnataka.
Rahul was nearly invisible in the real-politicking scene even as the Congress party tried everything possible to keep the BJP out of power in the state which the saffron party views as its gateway to the south. It is yet to be seen if the Congress would be able to keep its post-poll alliance with the JD(S) and resist the alleged attempt of MLA-poaching by the BJP whose B S Yeddyurappa has to prove majority on the floor of the House within 15 days, starting May 17. However, the vigour with which the Congress tried to fight back even after the latest in a drubbing spree was a joy to see for many who are worried over the spread of the right-wing saffron ideology all over India. The Congress showed signs of being an aggressive opposition party after brazenly failing in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya to form governments despite emerging the single largest party.
But where was Rahul when Karnataka was staging the edge-of-the-seat 'natak' that Karnataka has been staging since May 15. It was said that Rahul had become an active Twitter warrior who could take on prime minister Modi with his own weapon, social media. But after Karnataka threw up a fractured mandate, he was missing on Twitter too. He took to the micro-blogging site on counting day to thank the people of Karnataka in a tweet that anyone could post. His next reaction came after two days when his party and ally JD(S) failed to stop BJP's Yeddyurappa from taking oath despite a midnight legal drama in the apex court. "The BJP’s irrational insistence that it will form a government in Karnataka, even though it clearly doesn’t have the numbers, is to make a mockery of our Constitution. This morning, while the BJP celebrates its hollow victory, India will mourn the defeat of democracy," he tweeted.
There were a couple of reports that said Rahul attended a meeting with top leaders including Sonia Gandhi to chalk out a plan B after it emerged that the Congress won't be able to form the government on its own. However, if one's eyes are to be believed, it was still the so-called old guard of the Congress who have been pulling the strings in Karnataka at a time when the party faces an existential crisis. Veterans like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot managed the operations in Karnataka while the likes of Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram led the attack in Delhi. Most importantly, reports said, Sonia was instrumental in bringing H D Deve Gowda's JD(S) on board to stitch up the post-poll alliance. Are we supposed to infer that the regional veterans, in whose hands lie the prospects of an anti-BJP front in the 2019 general elections, are still reluctant to accept Rahul as a leader?
The Congress can argue, as it keeps doing, that Rahul was chalking out the strategies and the others were only executing his ideas. However, when it comes to practical politics, it's a basic lesson that visibility matters a lot.
During the last leg of the campaign in Karnataka, Rahul had sought the permission of the people to go on a Kailash pilgrimage saying he was still to overcome the shock of an airplane snag from which he had a narrow escape. Dear Congress chief, have you already packed off? If yes, please come back. Your party wants you because it still claims to have the largest vote bank that can fight the regressive right-wing with the ballot.
(Views are personal)