On Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman election, lessons in management for Rahul Gandhi, courtesy Arvind Kejriwal

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New Delhi | Published: August 9, 2018 3:14:19 PM

Why did Kejriwal ditch this show of opposition unity? Well, at the heart of this unusual 'boycott' is none other than Congress president and PM hopeful Rahul Gandhi, claims the Aam Aadmi Party.

Rahul gandhi, arvind kejriwal, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman election, Rajya Sabha election, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman election 2018, aap, aam aadmi party, congress, india newsClearly, floor management is not something that Rahul Gandhi can claim proficiency in. (Source: PTI)

The Aam Aadmi Party led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided to boycott the Congress’ strong pitch to put up a show of opposition unity ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha election of 2019. The AAP of Kejriwal, one of the fiercest critics of the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, abstained from voting when the Rajya Sabha met to elect a new Deputy Chairman of the Upper House.

Why did Kejriwal ditch this show of opposition unity? Well, at the heart of this unusual ‘boycott’ is none other than Congress president and PM hopeful Rahul Gandhi, claims the Aam Aadmi Party. Consider what AAP leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh had to say on his party’s stand on opposition’s candidate BK Hariprasad in the elections to the second highest post in the Upper House.

“The Congress is known for practicing politics half-heartedly. The AAP has voluntarily supported the Congress in the elections for the President as well as Vice President. However, Rahul Gandhi did not even have the basic courtesy to express his gratitude for our support. Not even a phone call,” Singh said on Wednesday.

Arguing that the party had no option but to abstain from voting as it cannot support an NDA candidate — despite a call from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar — and has received no intimation from Congress for its support, Singh said that if Rahul Gandhi wanted the three AAP RS members to vote in favour of the party, he would have to pick up the phone and make the call to Arvind Kejriwal. Sadly, that never happened.

“Congress party takes AAP for granted. If Rahul Gandhi asks AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal for party’s vote then we will support them, else we are not interested in voting in their support,” Singh said. The AAP has also called Congress the biggest obstacle to opposition unity.

Politics, as they say, is the art of management, where managing your party cadre and leadership is as important as maintaining ties with your current and prospective allies. And Rahul Gandhi does not seem to be learning his lessons until now.

Consider the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman election. The Congress’ initial plan was to put up a regional party leader as the united opposition’s nominee. Names of NCP’s Vandana Chavan, nominated member KTS Tulsi and Tiruchi Siva of DMK were considered front-runners for the post. However, with little or no consensus on the names, the Congress was forced to pit its own leader in the inconsequential race. WHile NDA’s Harivansh secured 125 votes, Congress’ BK Hariprasad managed 105 in the 232-member house. The total strength of the house is 244 but only 232 participated in the election, bringing down the majority figure to 117. Two members present in the House also abstained from voting.

As is clear, the inclusion of three votes from the Aam Aadmi Party would have made little difference in the final outcome, but the numbers do defy the Congress’ initial assertion of a clear win. Support from parties like the BJD, TRS, YSRCP, and the Shiv Sena that could have turned the tables for the Congress were left for the BJP to feast on.

Clearly, floor management is not something that Rahul Gandhi can claim proficiency in. Managing allies, on the other hand, is something he has no running away from as Congress president, especially at a time when his party embarks on a quest to beat Narendra Modi in 2019 through an alliance of like-minded parties. If it is any indication, the symptoms so far are far from encouraging.

Consider what the ‘like-minded’ parties like the BSP and Samajwadi Party have to say on the alliance with Congress in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. SP president and former CM Akhilesh Yadav has clearly conveyed that the Congress should not be hopeful of too many seats in the grand alliance with the SP, BSP and RLD.

“Congress is a big party on the national level but its situation in the context of Uttar Pradesh is something to think about,” he said speaking at an event organised by a news channel. Rubbing it in further, Yadav said that the number of seats Congress contests on as part of the alliance will depend upon the agreement reached between the SP, BSP and RLD. Akhilesh and Rahul have definitely come a long way from the ‘UP ke ladke’ pitch ahead of the assembly elections in the state. Akhilesh, it seems, learnt his lessons then. Mayawati, another proponent of an anti-BJP alliance, is also flexing her muscle for an equal say in states outside Uttar Pradesh. She has categorically stated that there have been no talks to finalise any alliance with the Congress so far.

The harshest assessment of Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning and leadership, however, came from AAP’s Sanjay Singh. “When a leader can’t seek vote for his own candidate, how can he lead his party?”

Contrast this with what the BJP has managed to achieve. The YSR Congress and TRS who were non-committal on their support to either side were roped in the saffron party’s favour. Even the likes of disgruntled ally Shiv Sena, which only recently had abstained from the vote of no confidence against the government, also supported the BJP. So was the BJD which will be in direct contest with the BJP in Odisha. Apparently, several calls from the BJP leadership, including PM Modi and party chief Amit Shah tipped the 9 MPs in its favour. The AIADMK with 13 MPs was roped in too, making the BJP’s win a smooth sail.

If the contrast is any indication, things are only going to get tougher as the biggest electoral battle of 2019 approaches. But is Rahul Gandhi listening? If he is not, Congress needs to be worried. Very worried!

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