Rahul Gandhi’s ‘walk in the park’ dream of making it to the top in Indian politics seems to be evaporating into the thin air, particularly when BJP is being led by Narendra Modi and the saffron color is flying high and ruffling many a feathers. Pre-Modi, who would have thought the Congress party would fail to achieve the official status of the ‘Opposition’ party in the parliament two elections in a row.
But under Rahul Gandhi, the party has achieved this ignominious feat, all thanks to the fact that its face, the party chief – Rahul Gandhi has failed to click – twice. So many jokes served the politically conscious minds over the globe – about Dr Manmohan Singh’s political character while he was at the helm; but he did not receive the rejection from the people of India which Rahul has.
Let us have a look at the electoral scenarios for the BJP, the Congress, Mamta Banerjee’s TMC and the Shiv Sena briefly:
BJP – 116 seats
Congress party: 206 seats
Mamta Banerjee’s TMC: 19 seats
Shiv Sena: 11 seats
BJP – 282 seats
Congress party: 44 seats
Mamta Banerjee’s TMC: 34 seats
Shiv Sena: 18 seats
BJP – 303 seats
Congress party: 52 seats
Mamta Banerjee’s TMC: 22 seats
Shiv Sena: 18 seats
Although a slight improvement (of 8 seats this time), the Congress party has again fallen short of the 10% (of total seats 542) – the number required to claim the status of the Opposition part in parliament. Both times, the Gandhi family had put the face of Rahul Gandhi as the face of the party which failed to click. And Rahul Gandhi has lost Amethi, the seat which he had held since 2004. In 2009 elections Rahul won the seat securing 4,64195 or 71.78% votes. In 2014, his vote was 4,01,651 or 46.71% but he managed to defeat Smriti Irani who secured 3,00, 748 or 34.38%. Rahul’s vote decreased by 25.07%.
This year, Rahul secured 4,13,394 or 43.86% votes and Smriti Irani managed to defeat him by securing 4,68,514 or 49.71% of the votes increasing her vote by a whopping 15.33%.
This battle of Amethi was such a big deal that the Congress stalwarts would consider a ‘do or die’ mission for Rahul and a prestige run for the Congress. Such was the belief in his capacity to retain that seat that Navjot Singh Sidhu had announced at a press conference before elections that if Rahul loses Amethi, he (Sidhu) would quit politics. Rahul has lost but Sidhu is still there with a big political ‘egg’ on his face.
Rahul Gandhi, as president of the Congress party, released the party Manifesto 2019 making several promises to voters aimed at alluring them to vote for change at the Centre. Packaged as small and appealable ideas, the promises covered the following five areas:
- Minimum income guarantee (Nyuntam Aay Yojana or NYAY),
- Filling vacant government jobs,
- A separate Kisan Budget,
- Right To Healthcare, and
- A simpler GST and increased expenditure on education.
The analysts put a very high price tag on these small ideas the Congress party had for the common man. Let us look at each of them briefly:
Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) or Minimum Income Guarantee
The top on the list is the minimum income of Rs. 72,000 p.a. (or Rs 6,000/ per month) to the 20% poorest families of India. If implemented, NYAY would have had far reaching implications for India’s economy. Analysts put the cost of this idea of the Congress party at Rs 3.60 lakh crore annually.
In the first year, the cost of this scheme will be close to 1 per cent of the GDP, which will increase to 1.5 per cent in the second year.
Filling up vacant government positions
Rahul Gandhi promised to fill all 4 lakh central government positions before March 2020, while persuading states to fill another 20 lakh vacancies in the state government. With minimum salary offered to a central government employee after implementation of 7th pay commission being Rs 18,000, the promise would have an annual package cost of Rs 2.16 lakhs per job. Filling up all 4 lakh vacant position in the central government as promised in the Congress manifesto would cost a bare minimum of Rs 8,640 crores annually to the exchequer. Filling up another 20 lakh jobs at state level will cost a lot more.
Increasing healthcare expenditure to 3% of GDP
Current spend on the healthcare is approximately 1.3% of the GDP or Rs 2.47 lakh crore. Rahul’s plan would have increased this expenditure to 3 per cent of GDP by 2023-24, simply committing to double the current spend. Congress boldly aims to provide free healthcare to all citizens by improving and expanding government-owned hospital and primary and secondary care infrastructure. The cost of this would be close to Rs 5.71 lakh crore-nearly Rs 3.23 lakh crore higher than the current expense on healthcare.
6% of GDP to be spent on education
Increasing expenditure on education with money primarily to be spent on infrastructure, salaries to teachers is a great idea. India’s current spending on education is approximately 4.6 per cent of GDP or Rs 8.76 lakh crore annually. Rahul Gandhi’s proposal would have required an additional Rs 2.66 lakh crore every year to take the total annual spend on education to Rs 11.4 lakh crore.
Congress manifesto thus puts an additional burden of around Rs 10 lakh crore on the Budget. Given that India’s budgeted expenditure for 2019-20 is barely Rs 27.84 lakh crore, the Congress proposals certainly appeared profligate and thus failed to impress voters.
The buck stops with the leader and should stop with the leader – Rahul Gandhi. In India, although literacy rates may be lower than the West, people are connected with social media and any attempts to fool people are immediately seen through.
May be it is time to do the unthinkable – accept Rahul’s resignation, show him the door the way any other leader would have been and bring some fresh face to the top. Shashi Tharoor or some Rajasthani royalty or the neo-Pawar or Sangmas…
But the tragedy with the Congress party is – it is a political party synonymous with the name Gandhi and its brand value may not be the same if that happens. Remember the times of Congress S (for Swarn Singh) and the birth of the Congress party known today as Congress I (for Indira Gandhi)?
The poor showing continues and the brand value keeps diminishing. The scandals the family gets accused of being involved in – the Vadra factor, the totally deflated image of Rahul Gandhi who lacks any impact no matter what the subject matter of his speech, Sonia’s dying appeal in the new age of social media awakening the nationalistic sentiment no matter how confused which his eliminating any sycophantic following left of yore – all these are things which should worry the Gandhi family.
Does Rahul have what it takes to be a khilji? Perhaps he needs to create a leader, work under him/her and then exterminate that leader to stamp his leadership on the party – only then in my view, will he be able to have a successful political career.
Thus, all those Congress party people who are insisting on Rahul to continue are doing every Congressman a big disservice. The Congress mindset has to reinvent itself in this new age of social media which exercises colossal power on the young voters who think by casting their vote, they are nation building. NaMo is the personification of this new age, not necessarily – representing the ‘saffronisation’ of Indian politics but all of the above factors rolled into one. It is just so lucky for the BJP that other changes including the total deflation the of the Congress party have come about almost at the same time compounding the problems of ‘hamare sahibzaade’.
And for now, the NaMo dinosaur of Indian politics – a cannibal with a developed predilection for eating up Congress nobodies continues to rule the roost! -DM