Saturday, August 6, 2016

Rahul’s new grammar for Congress

 Pankaj Sharma
1 August 2016

The Congress vice-president has mastered the art of operating within constraints.

Rahul Gandhi’s interaction with party workers in Lucknow on Friday has made it clear that the Congress is not going to be a lazy and sleepy entity in Uttar Pradesh anymore. Until a fortnight back, the Congress was not even considered as a viable entity for the upcoming Assembly elections in UP. But the way it has fastened its belts, the party seems to be back in the reckoning.

It was perhaps the only time when Rahul answered such bold questions posed by the Congress workers directly. The direct question-answer session is not just new to the Congress party, but also to general politics in India. Walking to one end of the stage specially prepared for the occasion, answering questions over a hand-held mike wearing kurta and jeans, Rahul was completely at ease and spoke freely.

Can one imagine Congress workers asking Rahul blunt questions on his decisions? In response, Rahul made them understand the logic behind those decisions. He was asked about the appointment of 78-year-old Sheila Dikshit as the party’s Chief Ministerial face in a state where it has been marginalised for the last 27 years. The Congress vice president explained that her long experience in governance was the reason behind his decision. He also said that to run a party it is necessary to maintain a combination of young energy and old experience.

Party workers also asked him to explain why he is not that accessible to them, unlike leaders of the past. Rahul replied that it is because he has to travel to different states most of the time. Then he assured his party colleagues that he would start organising weekly meets where anyone will be able to see him.

The Congress vice-president also presented important markers of his party’s electoral strategy for UP while answering these questions. It is now clear that the Congress will have no pre-poll alliance either with Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party. Rahul criticised both parties for ruining the development of the state in the past three decades. Moreover, he injected enthusiasm in party workers by saying that no party can stand before a united Congress. He also made clear that there is no place for disloyalty, however, big that leader’s stature may be. The party ticket will go to those who have worked hard with utmost commitment, the Congress vice-president assured. Rahul also made clear that though the doors of theCongress are open for all those who believe in the ideology of the party, but when it comes to giving electoral opportunities he will first give preference to old time loyal Congressmen and women.

Rahul also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies and the activities of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But, in my opinion, the claims made about his own party presents a major shift in his political thought process. I find him much more mature, bold, straight forward, accommodative, and a transparent organisational manager this time who is fully equipped to take on the challenges posed by rival parties as well as from those within his own party. This large heartedness and open-mindedness combined with the zeal to protect the basic discipline in the party is something which has the potential of changing the grammar of Rahul’s Congress in the coming days.

Taking over and running a political party, even if one is a natural heir, has never been an easy task anywhere. When a leader passes through conflicts in a political outfit, it is very easy to be sucked into tunnel-vision and focus on immediate differences. In such a situation, chances are that you will invite more resistance. If you look like you are fighting to emerge as a winner in any conflict, it might defeat the basic purpose. Therefore, to mitigate this one must focus on the business objectives. 

Eventually, everyone wants the business to be successful; individuals win when organisation wins. By steering the discussion in the direction of winning the upcoming electoral battle in UP, Rahul has provided an opportunity to state leaders to disengage from petty differences and position themselves as someone who is interested in achieving the goal of changing the party’s fortunes in the state. I feel Rahul now knows how to consciously choose his reactions to the situations. Instead of feeling victimised and angry about the situations he has begun to influence the situation.

Rahul’s new empowering technique will reap its fruits with the passage of time. I see him now as a person who has mastered the art of operating within constraints. Not getting personal is a blessing for a leader and I am sure with this inbuilt strength in his personality, Rahul is going to emerge as a strong magnet not in his own party but also in Indian politics. Seeking to understand is the most disarming technique and that is what Rahul followed in Lucknow. Once the workers feel that Rahul understands their agony and not find their queries offending, they will also understand their vice president’s logic.

Narcissists, compulsive liars, sycophants, manipulators, and gossip-mongers will always be there to play their tricks to somehow worm their way in the corridors of power. But with the wisdom which Rahul showed during the question-answer session in Lucknow, I am sure, he has developed a tremendous capacity to differentiate between what is good for the Congress and what is not.

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