Those who fail to see any magnanimity in not anointing as leader an operator who nearly toppled one of the handful of state governments the Congress controls and handed it over to the BJP can take guidance from a Panchatantra story.
The story is about a wolf who, as wolves are wont, wolfed down a bony hunk of meat and found himself with a large piece of bone stuck in his throat. His mouth lay half-open, he could neither open it in full nor close it. Neither hacking nor coughing would bring it out. Neither gagging nor howling helped. All such exertions only lodged the offending piece of bone more securely and painfully in the wolf’s throat. The wolf began to panic, fearful images filling his mind of slow starvation or having to defend himself only with claw, accompanying tooth being out of commission in a mouth rendered incapable of biting, the said act being opening and closing the mouth in quick, forceful succession, neither of which he could do.
Then, as luck would have it, especially in fables, along came a crane, with its long neck and long beak. It understood the wolf’s plight, took pity on him and told him he would take the obstruction in his throat out, if only the wolf would sit still with his mouth open, snout pointing up. The wolf agreed. The crane put his head inside the wolf’s open mouth, probed down the throat with his long beak, located the bone and pulled it out. The wolf gave a yelp of pain, and then inhaled in relief and regained life. As he wheeled around and was about to slink away as wolves do, the crane asked him, only half in jest: what, not even a word of thanks?
The wolf replied: when your head was inside my mouth, I could have snapped your neck into two and made a meal out of you. That I did not do what a wolf would do to a defenceless bird is my act of gratitude. Be happy that you are alive, dear crane.
That wolfish magnanimity is exactly what Rahul Gandhi exhibits, when he refrains from appointing Sachin Pilot as Rajasthan PCC president. Had he tried to bite off the crane’s head, the wolf might have mangled the bird’s neck and even killed it, but surely, he would have failed to get rid of the offending piece of bone in his throat, and eventually died of hunger, thirst or enemy attack. That possibility does not enter his skull. He expects the crane to be thankful that he spared him. Probably, Rahul Gandhi expects Ashok Gehlot to be thankful that he is sparing him, by not giving Sachin Pilot his old job of PCC president back.
Sachin Pilot shares the characteristics of other Rahul favourites. One is entry into active politics as a readymade leader, with no need to have worked in the trenches and climbed up the rungs of leadership struggling for the party and its ideals, foiling the party’s opponents and their machinations, fending off the competition within the party in the meantime. Another is political pedigree. He is the son of a major Congress leader, as is Jyotiraditya Scindia and Varun Gogoi in Assam. A third characteristic, of not being rooted in Congress politics, derives from the fourth and most important one characteristic from Rahul Gandhi’s point of view: he should owe his leadership to Rahul Gandhi’s blessing, be obliged to him and so offer no scope for Rahul Gandhi to feel intimidated just by his senior presence.
Rahul Gandhi’s picks for Maharashtra, Nana Patole, is an embarrassment for Congressmen in the state, as had been an earlier Rahul nominee, Sanjay Nirupam. At the same time, Rahul Gandhi had sidelined leaders like Gurudas Kamat.
In Gujarat, Gandhi has saddled the PCC president, a longtime Congressman, with newbie Hardik Patel, as working president. Team Rahul’s interference in candidate selection and campaign management is given credit for the drubbing the Congress got in the state’s local government elections. It was not so much Rahul Gandhi’s penchant for holidaying in the midst of an election campaign as his core team’s hijacking of election management from the local leadership that was responsible for the party’s miserable showing in the Bihar assembly elections last year and the BJP-led alliance’s victory. In Kerala, too, Team Rahul chose to impose fresh faces in the assembly elections, eschewing established leaders and the party ended up with red faces, most newcomers losing badly.
Rahul Gandhi humiliated Ramesh Chennithala, who had led the Kerala election campaign after serving as an effective leader of the Opposition, appointing a younger colleague in his place in the assembly. In Kerala’s case, the saving grace is that Chennithala’s successor, too, is a Congressman of long standing, and not a Johnny-come-lately. That is not the case in Assam. Varun Gogoi’s sole qualification to be leader is that his late father, Tarun Gogoi, was chief minister, Family loyalist and long-time Congressman. The Gandhis’ choice of leader for UP is another late entrant to the Congress.
Punjab is Rahul Gandhi’s latest conquest. Sidhu was a good cricketer and an energetic commentator with a quirky turn of phrase, is a popular judge of comedy shows and a silver-tongued turncoat who sees changing parties as easy as changing clothes. Why Gandhi should appoint him as Punjab PCC president in the face of stiff opposition not just from chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, against whom Sidhu had taken public pot shots, but also other Congress leaders of the state, seems fairly clear: because he can.
Next year’s assembly elections should have been a walkover for the Congress, with the Badals still under a cloud, their alliance with the BJP in tatters and the Farm Bills roiling public anger against the BJP. Now that Rahul Gandhi has successfully pitted Congress against Congress in the state in the run-up to the elections, the game is wide open.
Which brings us to the starting point. Because he can — that seems to be a sound reason for Rahul Gandhi to take the wrecking ball to Congress state unit after unit. He does not seem to make much headway in appreciating that politics is more than issuing statements or showing off his smarts on Twitter. But he understands that Congress leaders are willing to give him a rope long enough for him to do as he pleases.
Which is what makes his inaction on Rajasthan an act of grace.