It is losers galore in the Lok Sabha election. Many leaders including chief ministers and top rung of parties, who had expected victory, have suffered defeat. Although there was nothing unnatural in defeat, when they are compared with many who have been elected, one can only lament the fate of the nation.
Perhaps the one who tasted the most bitter defeat may be none other than Rahul Gandhi. In spite of a win in Wayanad with record majority, the loss of his own constituency Amethi to Smriti Irani is no doubt a personal jolt. But more severe is the jolt suffered by the party under his leadership. Before groping for reasons, he has once again shown the maturity by accepting the people's verdict and acknowledging responsibility for the defeat. Neither he nor his party had anticipated the kind of blow they suffered. In the parliament, the party leader once again is not eligible for the status of Opposition leader. The repercussions of this hit in the Congress-led states, remain to be seen. When digging for the causes of such a beating, more than the fault of the leadership, one cannot lose sight of the inherent and historically inherited frailties of the party, together with the evolution of the country's public conscience. Other than that he failed to recognize this in full measure, Rahul is still a competent political leader. He did imbibe, and display, leadership qualities to such an extent as to be seen as a hope for the country. True, in the matter of electoral strategy and tactics, he may not be anywhere near those on the opposite side or his own. But the maturity and composure he showed in the domain of campaigning, were quite the opposite of his opponents – and a model in that respect. On the one hand, he vigorously tried to lay bare the corruption and anti-people character of the ruling establishment. On the other, he tried to take on the ideology of hatred with humanitarian concepts. In place of models of evil, he upheld alternatives of virtue. He emphasized the importance of inclusive politics. At the same time of talking precise politics, he abstained from characer assassinations. Don't these constitute the makings of a leader?
The idiom of love and an urge to feel the hardships of the common man, are qualities that any society would like to see in a leader. Elections are an opportunity given to the people by democracy, to discuss issues; it is a time to appraise the performance of a government. And that was what Rahul consistently attempted to do. He raised debates on topics like GST, unemloyment, servility to corporates and communal division. Rahul challenged the prime minister for a debate several times. He openly talked to the media, with a list of unfulfilled promises of the government and explained the party's manifesto. And aren't these what a true political leader should do during election? As for his rival camp, it always evaded discussing the issues, and did all it couild to tie people's focus down to divisiveness and frenzied nationalism. By raising emotional issues, they concealed people's problems. It is not Rahul's fault that the people fell into that trap. The fault is not gauging the extent to which people's minds have changed. It cannot be said Rahul's leadership faltered in political ideals or in effectiveness of campaign. But he did err in reading the minds of a large section of the people he addressed – as much as in assessing the depth of weaknesses of his own party.
But this shortcoming had set in within the Congress even before independence. On many occasions, and in many places, the Coongress proved itself to be not much different from the BJP in ideals and policies. Add to this the many selfish leaders chasing power and running after positions. Perhaps Congress may be the party that fielded the maximum number of such candidates on party ticket, as would be ready at any time to defect to the BJP. These leaders who would show loyalty whenever Congress displayed signs of improving its position, would have no qualms to desert the party when it loses. Its second layer leadership, lacking in discipline or dedication, is a liablity. Rahul did not achieve much success in keeping them away.
But the setback of Rahul is not of his party alone. It is a setback for the glimmer of hope that had arisen in the country; a jolt to the hope that the country's constitution and basic values could be rediscovered. It also hit badly the optimism of the comoon man of India that a politics of alienation would be replaced by a politics of inclusion. And what Rahul's defeat drives home is that identifying its cause and solution cannot be limited to electoral battles. The defeat in poll is only an outward manifestation of another defeat. And that defeat is the wound suffered by the soul of India. Another election will have meaning only by working hard among the masses and by healing that wound. Such a task will be prolonged and painstaking, which will be possible only by a bunch of people eager to serve and imbued with human love. The language of love and dignity can enter people's hearts and purge them of fraud and hatred that ail them. The antidote to the politics of spreading hatred and dividing people, is spreading love and fostering intimacy. The country craves for such a social movement. If the Congress has to be revived that is to be done not politically, but socially. There should be a start from scratch for developing an action plan with precise goals and for gradually building a new politics of inclusiveness and love. If Rahul's defeat becomes a starting point for that, so much the better.