The one simple fact is that a government can be remote controlled but not an opposition. It needs to be kept on its toes, all the time enthusing its ranks to believe that it would win back the government in time. Would Rahul Gandhi be up to this challenge and provide proof that he does have the stuff, asks Mahesh Vijapurkar
The exit polls are broadly in line with the pre-poll mood and expectations. The Congress, with the largest number of MPs from among the non-Bharatiya Janata Party, non-National Democratic Alliance ranks would now have to sit in the opposition, unless Narendra Modi’s quest for 7 RCR trips him up and he falls terribly short of numbers.
The ifs and buts are appropriate because Indian voters can and have delivered surprises -- the Delhi assembly elections being a recent example. Having said that, what would Congress, or more pointedly, Rahul Gandhi do when the adverse results emerge? A lot depends on his mother’s choice with regard to Congress’s future, at least in the short to medium term.
Bar a miracle, Amethi would return him. It is natural to expect that the man who also wanted to be prime minister should cut his teeth by being a prime minister-in-waiting, occupying the other seat at the other end of the horseshoe in Lok Sabha. It’s an opportunity to hone his parliamentary skills.
Being a leader of the opposition is not a picnic. One cannot only occasionally rise and raise an issue by reading from a prepared text, a privilege accorded only to a maiden speech but Lok Sabha has been indulgent to him so far. Given the rarity of his interventions, and sometimes for the amusement it offered, even the opposition allowed it.
A battery of ministers and others in the treasury benches perform on behalf of the prime minister who makes his presence felt once in a while. The dynamics of a performing opposition is entirely different. The leader of the opposition is required to lead every minute, have a quick grasp, a clear expression, a ready wit, and knowledge of nuances of governance. That determines if the leader of the opposition is good or bad, useful or useless.
The country has almost invariably good leaders of the opposition. This time, it would perforce be battling the prime minister on a daily basis, the person in that office being Narendra Modi. The face-to-face debate between Modi and Rahul Gandhi, so craved by the citizens, but shrewdly avoided, would be a reality show on unedited Lok Sabha TV telecasts.
Opportunities to trip a government come unannounced, and they have to be exploited, on the spur as it were, sans support from speech writers and cue-card holders. If this were too onerous for the prime ministerial aspirant, then the responsibility would befall on the mother, who her own and filial reasons, she did not want to be PM or lead the campaign.
An MP since 2004, Rahul Gandhi has been an heir-apparent of the family, with a doting, indulgent mother egging him on. The party fell in line, elevated him to the number two rank and gave free reign to him to conduct the party’s campaign to retain power but were dismayed at his ways. That he has been failing each time is well known.
The attempt to rescue him from responsibility for the widely expected route has already been activated. The Indian Express reported on Tuesday how the party’s core group meeting last night “made it clear that the outcome, good or bad, would not be a reflection on Rahul’s leadership”. Strangely, “even if it were good “, but that is a mystifying stance.
The much-reviled Manmohan Singh, another 3-4 days left of his tenure, had praised him to the skies by saying that the scion was fit to be the PM, and that he would be happy to work with him. Earlier, he had offered him a job as a minister, which Rahul Gandhi declined, but it was passed off as his lower priority, because he wanted to focus on infusing democracy and strength into it.
Such an excuse now, if reemployed, would show him to be a shirker. Since Congress is poised to be the single-largest among the non-BJP non-NDA grouping, taking up the leader of the opposition’s job is its natural consequence. No more the hit-and-run backbencher, seen now, gone now for him. His true test of being a leader would to get into the bull pit.
The campaign to retain the government was less a concern as it was more to retain it to anoint him the prime minister. If the mother and son were to abdicate here and hand it over to someone else, you can expect the dynasty to start crumbling. There already are projections that the party may rebuild itself somehow, but not the family.
The one simple fact is that a government can be remote controlled but not an opposition. It needs to be kept on its toes, all the time enthusing its ranks to believe that it would win back the government in time. Would Rahul Gandhi be up to this challenge and provide proof that he does have the stuff?