(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 5 June 2019.)
In a job interview, the hiring manager decided to put the candidate at ease with small talk. He asked the candidate, what’s your favourite fruit? Considering it is the season of mangoes, surely you like mangoes?
Instead of giving a simple answer, the candidate replied, “I do Vipassana”. The manager was flummoxed. What’s Vipassana got to do with any fruit?
The candidate went on to explain, “The mind constructs the flavour of the fruit. You can like or dislike any fruit you want. You can choose to like mango, you can choose to hate it.”
That was bizarre, felt the manager. How could you choose to like or hate mangoes at will? The candidate explained further, “You can choose to like poor people, you can choose to hate them.”
Where, how and why did poor people come into a question about his favourite fruit! The manager kept a straight face and let the candidate explain further.
“You construct everything in your mind,” the candidate said. “The mind decides everything. I might start off hating someone, but after a bit of interaction, I’ll see things through their eyes, and be like: Actually, I like him; he’s great’.”
By this time the candidate looked like he was lost in his own make-believe world where the mind runs amok without fear and the head is held a bit too high. Just then, the candidate returned to the question and said: “But to answer your question: I like mangoes, I like bananas, I never used to like carrots, but now I do. I never used to like asparagus, but I do now.”
Do you think the manager hired the candidate after this interaction? Surely not. If a candidate speaks so much nonsense in a job interview, how will anyone get any work done from him?
The conversation is real, except this was not a job interview. This was Rahul Gandhi speaking to India Today magazine a few weeks ago.
India rejects Rahul
The 2019 Lok Sabha election result has been decisive. Voters have not just voted Modi back to power, they have resoundingly rejected Rahul Gandhi. Modi clearly benefited from making the election a presidential contest against Gandhi.
Many expected the Congress to at least double its seats, increase its vote-share a bit, if not cross 100. Correspondingly, the BJP was widely expected to shed at least a few seats. Such a result would have given us a sense of incremental progress in the Congress party’s fortunes. The Congress likes to think its eventual return to power is almost inevitable. Incremental progress would have bolstered the case.
Instead, the Congress has remained almost where it was in 2014. In fact, it has actually lost seats and vote-share in the Hindi heartland. Rahul Gandhi lost his own family seat of Amethi.
The Congress vote share increased from 19.3 per cent to just 19.5 per cent. Its seats increased from 44 to just 52. The writing on the wall is unambiguous — India has rejected Rahul Gandhi.
The dislike for Rahul Gandhi is so strong that people prefer Modi even if can’t create jobs. The revulsion is not so much for the Congress but for Gandhi. It comes from Rahul Gandhi often not making sense in his utterances, like talking about the mind, Vipassana and poor people when asked about fruits.
When will Rahul Gandhi retire?
Whether or not Rahul Gandhi remains the president of the Congress party, he will continue to be its public face, its de facto prime ministerial candidate. His ageing mother or obedient sister won’t come in the way. There’s hardly any mass leader of consequence left to rebel.
So, how long will Rahul be around? There is no retirement age in Indian politics, but people tend to be around till 80. Manmohan Singh was 81 when he left the PM’s office. Vajpayee was 80 in 2004.
Rahul Gandhi is 48, will turn 49 this month and probably celebrate his birthday somewhere in Europe as he usually does. It is safe to assume that he will be leading his family business, the Congress party, with or without ceremonial titles for the next 30 years or so. With a warped thought process that makes him talk about Vipassana and poor people when asked about fruits and flavours, Rahul Gandhi will make sure the BJP keeps winning election after election.
If this seems unimaginable, think of Gujarat. The Congress has not won an election there since 1995, staying out of power for 24 years.
The Gujarat model has now been adopted by the country at large. Even when people are deeply unhappy with the BJP, as they were in Gujarat in 2017, they will still vote the BJP to power because the Congress just doesn’t look like an option.
Similarly, Rahul Gandhi will make sure the Congress never looks like an option in national politics. People will continue to fear handing over the nation’s keys to a man who can’t tell his mangoes from his Vipassana.
See you in 2049
There will be challenges from regional leaders and local politics, but at the national level, the BJP will continue to override anti-incumbency with the persona of Narendra Modi, who is only 68. All that Modi has to do to win elections is ask people if they would prefer Rahul Gandhi over him as PM.
Modi will be 78 in 2029. By that time, he would have served three terms as the prime minister. He might then pass on the job of saving India from Rahul Gandhi to his successor, Amit Shah. Currently the home minister, Shah is only 54. Come 2029 and Shah will be a ‘ripe young’ 64, and could easily serve another three terms as prime minister until the summer of 2044. Rahul Gandhi will be 73 then and still eligible to be a PM. That should make it easy for Yogi Adityanath, who is two years younger than Gandhi.
Don’t blame Vipassana
In these 30 years, there will be a lot of churning in Indian politics but, just like in Gujarat, the Congress party’s captive vote-share won’t let this churning add up to much. Just like anti-Congressism failed before Indira Gandhi, anti-BJPism will fail for want of a uniting national force against Modi-Shah.
In the BJP-Congress binary states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, a third force has often tried to come up and replace the Congress. While the Congress is too weak to defeat the BJP, it is too strong to give way to another force. This is what Yogendra Yadav means when he calls the Congress an “obstacle”. The Congress is more interested in retaining the opposition space than occupying treasury benches.
The Congress party’s slow decline will likely mirror what happened to the Liberal Party in UK, which was a major political force from 1850s till World War I but started declining thereafter. It didn’t, however, die immediately. It dissolved as late as 1988, its remnants merging with the Social Democrats to form what is today known as the Lib Dems.
It is only when Rahul Gandhi leaves the stage, and the Congress party concedes defeat and starts merging with the regional parties, that a new counter-politics to the BJP will emerge. Until then, India is likely to see uninterrupted, opposition-free, single-party rule by the BJP.
In the unlikely event that Rahul Gandhi decides to change his career and become a full-time spiritual guru, Modi-Shah will instantly start losing public support and elections. It won’t matter who the opposition figure is. It just has to be someone who has the ability to give a straight answer to a simple question like ‘What’s your favourite fruit?’