By Seema Mustafa
Politics is not done from behind a desk and a computer. It is done on the streets where the leaders are expected to know their workers by name. Indira Gandhi was famous for the personal touch she gave to her visits, and surprised even critical hacks, when she reached out at public meetings to touch someone and ask about his or her family by name.A friend of the Congress party, with a sad shake of the head, said, "must admit they have really spoilt it all." Of course the word used by him was far more descriptive, but unprintable. And the conversation in a typical middle class Delhi drawing room turned to politics. And at the end of the one hour ---at times heated---discussion one glaring fact stood out: the Congress had lost its seat as the favoured party.
The shine has worn off. And there is a certain resignation amongst the traditional Congress voters that the party will find it impossible to rise from under the crippling weight of price rise, inflation and non governance. The BJP, on the other hand, has whipped up the cadres and is stirring price rise and non governance into its communal cauldron of terrorism, uniform civil code, Ram temple in what it hopes will be a potent mix. Unlike the Congress it also has a Prime Minister on offer, but like the Congress it is also torn apart by factionalism in the states.
Karnataka has given a major boost to the BJP that is now determined to ride on this wave. The Congress has sunk back into its state of denial where no one is even willing to analyse the reasons for its failure in the southern state. All the woes of defeat have been heaped at the Janata Dal (S) door as the party luminaries in Delhi close ranks to defend party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi who really was the 'star' of a campaign that did not pay dividends. He is currently hunting for talent, and is interviewing young men and women selected by a team of Congress leaders, for posts in the Youth Congress.
Politics is not done from behind a desk and a computer. It is done on the streets where the leaders are expected to know their workers by name. Indira Gandhi was famous for the personal touch she gave to her visits, and surprised even critical hacks, when she reached out at public meetings to touch someone and ask about his or her family by name. She would spend nights at the district headquarters and open the door by the simple gesture to all the workers who wanted to meet her, till late at night and again early mornings. The present Congress president does not even spend hours in the smaller towns, visiting the cities only to address a public meeting and flying straight back to Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear that he is not a politician, and can at best be expected to make government announcements and not charge the party with new enthusiasm.
The point is that the touch is missing. And Rahul Gandhi, who must be a great chap personally, does not have the charisma to imbue the touch with a special meaning. He tries, but only in spurts, and is failing. Political parties get a second chance at the hustings, even when they fail to deliver, if their leaders have the ability to wipe tears and bring a smile on starved faces. Of course a second term of non governance ensures their ouster, but then a comeback is always guaranteed as the leaders have the charisma to convince the electorate of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor. Rahul Gandhi has a wooden touch, and even the die hard loyalists have started reluctantly admitting this.
The BJP has the same problem with president L.K.Advani. He has done a great deal for the party---being one of the architects of the Ram janambhoomi movement culminating in the demolition of the Babri masjid----but he still lacks that special touch. It was largely because of this that he had to concede first place to Atal Behari Vajpayee who, despite being a hard RSS member, had the charisma to sway the masses including the middle class. Vajpayee's retirement has placed Advani at the center stage, but his acceptability within the party is in direct proportion to his acceptability within the nation. He is not popular and does not have the rapport with the party workers that Vajpayee had. Advani realizes as well as others, that if the second rung of BJP leaders had been able to agree on any one as the party's prime ministerial candidate, he would not have had this opportunity.
Go down the list. Amar Singh tries but has not been able to replace Mulayam Singh Yadav as a popular leader in Uttar Pradesh. DMK's M.Karunanidhi has not been able to transfer his mass appeal to his son Stalin who will find it difficult to hold the party together. Omar Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir is more popular than his father Farooq Abdullah who is carrying heavy baggage, but if both are standing together, the people turn to the older man. On the other hand Mehbooba has a better rapport with the masses than her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, whose lack of charisma stood him in poor stead even when he was trying to establish himself as a Janata Dal leader in UP. His daughter can claim the credit for his re-emergence in Jammu and Kashmir. Nitish Kumar is by far the better chief minister and will get the votes for good governance, but in mass appeal he can not compete with Lalu Prasad Yadav who still remains a peoples favourite. Former prime minister V.P.Singh could have the crowds roaring in support, being actually one of the most charismatic leaders in the field at his level.
The BJP, along with the RSS, is working hard to consolidate support in the states partly through hard work, and partly through deploying every communal trick in the book. The Congress is not working at all, and the state leaders uncertain of their future spend all their time in keeping the central leadership happy. The result has been a string of defeats in the states, with the party now not even appearing to be in a position to benefit from the anti incumbency factor in some of the states going to the polls later this year. The Congress has long since realized that Sonia Gandhi and her son do not have the magic it needs to turn dust into votes but is also aware that it has nothing else on offer. It could have tried to make up the deficit with governance, but then hard work appears to have become an alien word for Congress ministers in the states and the center.