Post Elections, Here’s What RaGa Should Do On His Gujarat Visit
Congress President Rahul Gandhi is visiting Gujarat over the next two days to thank his party workers and voters for their support during the just-concluded Gujarat Vidhan Sabha elections. With its highest ever tally of 81 MLAs (77 of its own and four of the allies) in the last 27 years, the Congress is presented with a historic opportunity to reshape and reorient itself.
Gandhi can make the most of his post-election visit to Gujarat. He can give loud and clear indications that the Congress might have been defeated but it is certainly not out when it comes to issues that were raised during the election campaign. In his thanks-giving meeting, Rahul should mark a special time out to thank Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and the BJP workers for ensuring, through their actions and policies, that Gujarat does not become Congress-mukt (Congress-free) and the Congress becomes stronger, more focussed and better motivated for strengthening democracy.
Gandhi should reassure his party’s leaders and workers that he will visit Gujarat as often as possible and declare that, considering the trust and confidence of the state party unit he enjoys, Ashok Gehlot, the party’s Gujarat in-charge, shall continue as the principal intermediary between him and the state unit. He should also use this visit to identify a young and aggressive MLA (like Paresh Dhanani from Amreli) as leader of the Opposition and motivate him for the onerous job awaiting him.
Temples and Ashrams
Only if he feels so at a personal level, Gandhi may visit a temple or two – without being defensive and without overdoing it as a media event – to drive home the point that practice of personal beliefs is not against his party’s ideology as also to dispel the BJP’s propaganda that he would forget his faith once Gujarat elections are over.
However, more than temples, he should visit two other places in Gujarat. He should visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram that is located in a forgotten corner of the Sabarmati River Front, which is the BJP’s showpiece and a site for sea-plane’s air shows.
He should keep this Ashram visit non-partisan and abjure all Congress symbols while on its precincts. He should participate in an all-religion prayer meeting there, and pledge to the people of Gujarat that he would dedicate himself to Gandhi’s dream of ‘Antyodaya’ (welfare of the last man in society) and press for policies that usher in an egalitarian, fair and non-violent society.
At the Ashram premises, he should have a free-wheeling dialogue with leaders of grassroots movements, functionaries of independent NGOs and intellectuals to seek their suggestions on advancing Dalit and Adivasi welfare, environmental protection, conservation of water resources, communal harmony, women’s empowerment and other such basic objectives.
After this visit, Rahul should move to the Sardar Patel Memorial at Sardar’s birthplace Karamsad and commit that Sardar, who headed Gujarat Congress for 25 years, will inspire his party’s approach to farmers’ welfare and national integration.
He can vouch that he would like every member of his party to adopt in their lives the simplicity and honesty practiced by Sardar. The BJP might make fun of these visits and some commentators might interpret them as vain idealism and symbolism. But Gandhi would do the Congress immense service by re-connecting it to the core ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar.
Should Spend Time with Those Who Won and Those Who Lost
Gandhi should spend a good amount of time with his party’s newly-elected MLAs as also with the candidates who lost elections to understand local dynamics. A special consultation with his party’s units from Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot to identify gaps in the party’s organisation and strategies in the state’s urban areas which voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. The feedback received should then become a basis for the implementation of a concrete plan for the revival of theCongress in urban Gujarat.
Gnadhi should also meet Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani during this visit and extend the principled support of his party to their future movements which are aimed at bringing in social justice, rural development, farmers’ welfare and youth empowerment.
Reachable, Poised and Cool
The state Congress leadership should be instructed by Gandhi to constitute approximately 15 teams, each consisting of four to five party MLAs and focussed on various sectors of public policy in Gujarat, which would continually highlight peoples’ issues inside and outside the assembly.
These sectors should include rural and urban poverty, job creation, small and medium scale industries, large industries, primary and secondary education, higher education, infant mortality, women’s safety, housing, infrastructure, youth development and so on. He should announce that his party will form a shadow cabinet that would articulate, on the lines of the Westminster system of Britain, alternative positions on what the government of Gujarat would decide and do.
A declaration that people of Gujarat can contact him directly and in confidence whenever they suspect that any of the newly-elected Congress MLAs is involved in corruption, dishonesty or wastage of public funds would go a long way in boosting the credibility of the Congress in Gujarat. Rahul should also assure that his party would take suitable action in such cases after due enquiry within a specified time period.
Much maligned by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior BJP leaders as ‘Shehzada’, fool, enemy of Gujarat’s development, guest actor and pseudo-Hindu, Rahul chose to be non-responsive to personal criticism while getting his party’s Gujarat strategy in order, and bringing the Congress back into serious reckoning when everyone had virtually written it off.
He also remained cool about lies spread against him and three generations of Nehru-Gandhi family by the troll army loyal to Modi. Rahul should maintain the same poise and an issue-based approach in his speeches and dealings during this as well as subsequent visits to Gujarat. Message of 2017 Gujarat verdict is clear that both Rahul and the Congress have a future.
(The writer is Professor, Department of Political Science, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He can be reached @Amit_Dholakia . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)