Now that the Studio Bhakts gang (the fawning mainstream electronic media) has achieved its first objective - the return of the BJP to power - it has embarked on its second mission: the ejection of Rahul Gandhi from the Congress. For make no mistake, the Congress is the only party that stands between the BJP and its Valhalla of a Hindu Rashtra.
Even in its darkest hour, it has secured 120 million votes, as against the BJP's 220 million: no other party comes even close to this. And it has secured these votes across the country, even in states where it has not won any seat. Only the BJP has a larger national footprint. All other political parties, notwithstanding their strength in their own states, are regional players who lack an all-India vision and cannot see the larger picture from their chief ministerial chairs. Their focus is on their own survival and the nation be damned.
Mr Modi, the politician par excellence that he is, realises that with the Congress out of the way, his thousand-year Reich will be secure. The regional parties can then be picked off one by one, at leisure, with the astute use of electoral bonds and the many caged parrots now in his menagerie, as he has shown, with varying degrees of success in the north-east, West Bengal, Odisha and even Karnataka.
For the 134-year-old Congress to be broken, however, the Gandhis - particularly Rahul Gandhi - have to be eliminated as its leaders; without this nucleus the party shall fragment into disparate winnows, to be gobbled up by either the larger regional outfits or the Modi-Shah leviathan. To be sure, the party has faced critical inflection moments in its history - in 1951, 1969 and 1977 - and emerged perhaps stronger each time, but then it had titans of its own like Nehru and Indira Gandhi who helped it to weather the tempest. Today it is vulnerable as never before because it is at its weakest, numerically, organisationally and in terms of leadership. It has yet to recover from the two knockouts of 2014 and 2019 and is ripe for the plucking. Slice off the head and the rest of it will just wither away.
And so the electoral bonds-financed blitzkrieg to demonise Rahul Gandhi and to dismember his character and abilities, to make him an object of ridicule and calumny. There are two strands to this onslaught: the "dynast" argument and the “not fit to be a politician" narrative. Both are specious and as hollow as the moral innards of the anchors who froth about them on prime time every day, or of those life members of the Lutyens and Khan Market gang who have suddenly seen the light and discovered God in the form of Mr Modi and have no hesitation in confessing all to that bald Father Confessor of CNN TV.
It would be unrealistic to maintain that there is no dissatisfaction with dynastic politics, but it is certainly not the reason why Congress lost, or why Rahul Gandhi should quit. This is a false narrative built up by a supine media more loyal than the king. If it was true then how is it that 162 "dynasts" won in the recent elections, a full 30% of those now in Parliament?
Nor is this flaw the monopoly of the Congress alone: according to a survey by HW News, 22% of the total tickets given by the BJP were to "dynasts". It does business with dynastic parties: the SAD, Shiv Sena, Paswan's LJP and is wooing other family concerns like the TRS and the YSR Congress. Just about every regional party is dynastic in nature: BSP, SP, BJD, DMK, NCP, RJD: why create this narrative about the Congress alone? The BJP will also gravitate towards this, given time, for it takes about two generations of being in power for this feudal trait to entrench itself.
The second narrative now being purveyed by these channels - that Rahul Gandhi is a failed politician and unfit to lead a national party - is equally devious and false. He is the only Congressman with a pan-India image and his stature has risen in the last two years.
The pre-Balakot opinion polls were unanimous that he was closing the popularity gap with Modi and was only 12% points adrift of him. Yes, he is not decisive at critical moments, his calculations have gone awry at times, he is ill advised, he has not been able to shake off the legacy of deadwood that was the curse of his inheritance as president, he lacks the ruthlessness and killer instinct of the BJP duo. But even the latter can make mistakes, as when they lost three states in December 2018. Yes, he lost in Amethi, but then even Indira Gandhi and AB Vajpayee had lost elections.
The naked truth is that Rahul Gandhi did not lose the 2019 polls, Congress ideology did. Messers Modi and Shah have created a New India in which there appears to be no place for what the Congress has always stood for: liberal values, secularism, inclusiveness, consensus, human rights, genuine federalism, compassion for the poor. In the New India, these are all dirty words and ideas.
True, the Old India of the Congress has also been identified with a lot of negative traits - cronyism, corruption, hangers on, vacillation, and this image has to be rectified. Rahul Gandhi's challenge, therefore, is twofold: purge his party of these negative qualities and power brokers is the first one. The second challenge, perhaps even more important, is to resist the urge to jettison the ideology of Old India under the BJP onslaught or to try to emulate the masculine, hyper nationalist, Hindutva, market driven ideology of the BJP.
That would be a tragedy of monumental proportions. For if India is to survive as one nation it is the values and principles of this same derided Old India, of the Constitution, debated and resolved by our founding fathers, espoused by the Congress since its formation, which alone can ensure this.
Rahul Gandhi and his, hopefully, new Congress should not give up on them even though they may be out of fashion for the moment. He must cleave to them with even greater passion and conviction now, take them back to the citizens, convince them that there is no other path which the country can follow.
He would do well to remember the prophetic and cautionary words of Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly: "Democracy in India is only a top dressing of the Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic." Much of this shallow top dressing has been eroded in these last five years; Rahul Gandhi owes it to our founding fathers to ensure that what remains is not blown away by the devil's wind now gusting across this country.
Given the present hypnotised mood of the nation, this is a tough task: there will be more election losses for the Congress, the rats will jump ship in droves, factionalism and rebellion will become endemic in states, the old guards within his own party will resist change, the power of the state will be used ruthlessly, the media will get more strident and biased, smaller opposition/ regional parties will cave in, the head winds will be relentless.
Precisely the reason why Rahul Gandhi should not abandon his ship at this time and should stay firm on his course. The people will gradually realise that they have been following a Pied Piper and not the promised Messiah. The tide will turn, sooner rather than later, and when it does there must be someone who can guide the ship to a safe harbour.
(The author is a retired IAS officer. He blogs on the environment, current affairs and governance at avayshukla.blogspot.com. The article reflects the author’s views)