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The Congress could really do with a vacation in the hills amidst Shimla’s bracing winter chill. It is one place where they can be certain that they did actually win. Perhaps like the erstwhile British rulers of India, they can see themselves chugging up the picturesque route in the lovely little toy train to contemplate victory and defeat, and the meaning of life. In a collective gathering of the Congress leadership, some would perhaps argue that the fact that Narendra Modi could not really increase his tally in Gujarat was actually an achievement. Others may reflect on the importance of strong state leaders such as old warhorse Virbhadra Singh, who certainly had a role in scripting the party’s return to power in Himachal Pradesh.
But the real issue the Congress would never address is the vexing question of Rahul Gandhi. The party’s heir apparent intriguingly picked December 20, the day of the state poll results, to visit Goa where among other engagements he addressed Youth Congress workers. Meanwhile, Arjun Modvadia, the gritty Gujarat Congress president who lost his own seat in Porbandar, faced the music and accepted defeat. “It will take time to analyse the results,” he told Outlook. “We were unable to get the urban votes and attract the new voters. I failed, accepted the failure and responsibility and resigned.” He also defended Rahul: “It’s not that Rahul’s charisma is less although the high turnout of youth shows they voted for Modi. Rahul was not contesting from any seat and let’s not mix state-level politics with the national.” i&b minister Manish Tewari said the Congress won in all places where Rahul campaigned.
Porbandar is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, whose name Rahul invoked during one of his appearances at the tail-end of each phase of polling. “If I have any guru in politics, it’s Gandhiji,” he had said at a rally in Jamnagar where he made his first appearance. “Gandhiji had one simple rule that the voice of not only every Indian but every person in the world should be heard...”
The real lesson Rahul could learn from Gandhi, though, is never to give up fighting for something you believe in even if you seem to have lost the battle. In the face of terrible riots in Calcutta, Gandhi fasted in terribly divided neighbourhoods. He never accepted Partition either and was shot dead before he embarked on a journey to Pakistan. All that remains of Gandhi in today’s Gujarat is the plush state-of-the-art complex and auditorium Modi has built and named the Mahatma mandir.
As for the Congress, it seems to have outsourced the fight in various segments of the state to Keshubhai Patel’s GPP that was propelled by disgruntled VHP/RSS/BJP members, many of them complicit in the 2002 riots. So, as the campaign progressed, Gujarat faced a bizarre reality: secular activists and the VHP found themselves on the same side in the fight against Modi! Since the Congress had decided it was tactically better for the national leaders not to name Modi and for the party not to appear “too secular”, they completely lost sight of the larger questions of convictions, morality and ideology in Gujarat.
Had they done so, they would still have been defeated in the state and perhaps even fared worse than before, but could have told the rest of India that they fought a proud battle. All one heard instead was how clever this campaign was, how it was actually a strategy—the possibility of Modi moving to the Centre would in the long term help the Congress across India as minorities would rally behind it. However, nothing defeats like failure. This sort of fight has never really worked against Modi. This election had presented the Congress with an opportunity to at least reinforce some values and showcase the leadership we are told will lead India into the future. There is some good news from the hills, but come mid-January and the Congress leadership gathers in Jaipur to possibly address or ignore troubling questions.