Rahul's revival must start from Valley

Updated: May 27, 2019, 08:14 IST | Aditya Sinha

He is head and shoulders above all other Congressmen, even the Punjab CM and sister Priyanka, and he led from the front even if results were sad

Rahul's revival must start from Valley
Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah along with their families in Kashmir's GulmarG in December 1986. Pic/Book: Farooq Abdullah: Kashmir's Prodigal Son

Aditya SinhaWhile Congress President Rahul Gandhi mulls resigning from his post -- reports say he would rather focus on leading his party in Parliament -- here's some gratuitous advice about the next step forward -- taking a holiday. True, this is fraught with danger because he may be ridiculed for vacationing and if he goes abroad on holiday, it reinforces Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image of industry, undeserved because the evidence from the past five years is that the PM is not one to apply his mind to the nation's problems and instead prefers event management.

Yet if anyone has worked as hard as Modi during the past three months traversing the country, it's Rahul. The regional leaders deliberately stuck to their turf to focus on one-on-one contests against the BJP. Even if many were still not prepared to accept Rahul as PM, they no longer derided him.

He is head and shoulders above all other Congressmen, even Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and sister Priyanka, and he led from the front even if the results were sad. Some unnamed Congress veterans have told journalists that Rahul's negative campaign against the 'chowkidar' regarding the Rafale jet deal backfired, but they say this with the benefit of hindsight (and the shield of anonymity).

Rahul needs a break not just from the running around and the hard work but also to sit and think hard about where to take his party next. He has to consider his party's identity; he has to consider the wholesale restructure of the organisation; he has to consider whether soft Hindutva worked, as in the case of Digvijay Singh, who contested Pragya Thakur in Bhopal and visited several Hindu holymen, only to lose heavily; Rahul has to consider whether the BJP will remain invincible in the coming Assembly elections, seeing as how it was dislodged from three Hindi heartland states last December, reinforcing the argument that voters have different national and local choices; and Rahul must chart a path to the next presidential-type parliamentary election in 2024, because that path begins now.

As going abroad is not advisable, perhaps Rahul could take his break by visiting Kashmir. There are good reasons for doing so. One, Kashmir is in India so no one can fault him for visiting for an extended holiday and to do some intense offline brainstorming. Two, his family has a long history of visiting Kashmir. Great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, was a frequent visitor, and Rahul's 'dadi', Indira Gandhi, used to regularly vacation in Kashmir though she wasn't as frequent as her father. Rahul has been there at least once, as a teenager, when his dad Rajiv Gandhi, as PM, went to Kashmir in 1986 at the invitation of then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to personally seal their political accord (In photo the two families at Gulmarg).

Three, holidaying in Kashmir sends a political message. For one thing, Modi and his government during his first term conflated Pakistan, Kashmir and Indian Muslims into one homogenous enemy. Also, the BJP has repeatedly declared its intention of getting rid of Article 370 from the Constitution, which gives Jammu and Kashmir special status; it insulates the state from outside settlement and gives preference to state subjects for jobs and education. The Valley fears that the RSS, the BJP's fountainhead, wishes to change Kashmir's demography, which was over 90 per cent Muslim even before Kashmiri Pandits went into exile in 1990; and the rightwing does not hide this aim of theirs, as evidenced by a petition before the Supreme Court (by a RSS-linked think-tank) for throwing out Article 35A (as a precursor to getting rid of 370). In fact, several BJP supporters on the day of the results unsurprisingly came out with their choice of agenda to drive Modi's second term -- Kashmir and Article 370.

Whether this will happen is debatable -- it is more likely that Modi would initially prefer installing J&K's first Hindu CM after the Assembly elections that are likely this winter. It is equally likely that there are no Assembly elections for the foreseeable future, as the Governor is content to do New Delhi's bidding, which was in evidence in his decision to postpone the Assembly poll even though all the state's parties were willing to face the security risk and participate, had it been held with the Lok Sabha poll.

In either case, five years is a long time; and Kashmir is ripe to become the battlefield in Hindutva's next set of culture wars in India. It is exactly why Rahul Gandhi needs to begin his political rejuvenation and his roadmap to the next parliamentary election from the Valley. There can be no let up in the battle of ideas, no matter how badly one is charred in the battle for power.

Aditya Sinha's latest book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy, with Yashwant Sinha, is out now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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