Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s act of posting images of the Indian Army dog squad on the occasion of the International Yoga Day qualifies as juvenile delinquency at best. This was not one of those frequent gaffes on stage or on camera, with which Gandhi no longer amuses, such a long journey of faux pas he has had. The controversy raging across television channels and social media following the intemperate act was altogether avoidable. In all likelihood, this was the handiwork of a too-clever-by-half, excitable youngster whom the Congress president must have added to his cyber team. But nobody blames the burequcrats of Union ministers when they tweet embarrassments on their bosses’ behalf. Ergo, why should Gandhi be spared the flak for a wrong choice of his social media personnel? What he must shun forthwith at a time when there seems no scope for the Congress’s revival is persistent whines that have helped his party gain no more than eight seats over the 2014 tally in a huge Lok Sabha of 543 electable seats. After the whole nation saw a silly smile writ large on his face when the country’s oldest party was reduced to a score of 44 five years ago, all that Gandhi did until this general election ― and continues to do incorrigibly ― is lead a negative campaign. He complained and made wild allegations that even the section of mainstream media friendly to the opposition found difficult to support with follow-up stories: from “suit boot ki sarkar” to Rafale. To what avail?

A wise politician must learn even from the enemy. There were too many things going wrong for the UPA government during its last few years. Yet, cursing the Congress was not the leitmotif of the then prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, Narendra Modi in 2013-14. He carefully chose the television channels and their special events to project a futuristic India of his dreams. Even in 2019, there was a part of the campaign where Prime Minister Modi said while he wanted to build India, the opposition had a one-point agenda: ‘remove Modi’! This showed that the BJP was ready to take lessons from foes too, as this was precisely the refrain of Arvind Kejriwal while wresting Delhi from the electoral competition in 2015. Of course, Gandhi did try a part of Modi’s old strategy. He addressed students even as he could not appear in an adequate number of television interviews. When he did, a few like the one with India Today were too cringeworthy to be allowed to go on air. While that averted a loss of face, preventing a repeat of the disaster of his face-off with Arnab Goswami as in 2014, not much was achieved from whatever went on air.

Perhaps Gandhi is right in not willing to continue as the Congress president, as he simply does not have it in him ― although it would be an exaggeration to suggest he, a supposed simpleton, was as unwilling to enter politics in 2004 as his father Rajiv Gandhi was before the assassination of Indira Gandhi. But the country cannot afford a vacuum in the place of opposition if it must thrive as a democracy. With the heads of regional parties being too scary a proposition for people outside the respective States of Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, MK Stalin, et al, the Congress must stand up again. And it can count as a real opposition only by adopting a strategy of constructive criticism. Modi offers enough room for any challenger to fit into the space ― not only on economic issues but also on nationalistic positions and even on Hindutva. The first is ruled out, as PV Narasimha Rao’s liberal economics was an aberration in the Congress, which the party feels awkward to own. The Congress may then look back at its own dynasty to take a position like that of Indira Gandhi before and during the Bangladesh War. Or, taking a cue from its Kerala unit, it can pounce on every opportunity that the government offers by hesitating to be on the Hindu side. As the Modi government shows no sign of even contemplating freeing up temples from state control, why can’t the Congress take up the issue on a war-footing and regain the trust of the community? These are long-term plans beyond the wherewithal of the frolicsome fledglings Gandhi is fending for in his social media team. He diagnosed the problem all wrong when he admonished the senior leaders in his party, ironically, for furthering the interests of their respective clans. Leaving the likes of a Mani Shankar Aiyar or a Digvijaya Singh, no veteran in the Congress plays into the hands of the BJP. It is time Rahul Gandhi reposed faith in those who have lived politics all their lives. He owes a serious, viable opposition to the nation.

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