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The Economic Times

This may be the real reason behind Rahul's resignation

Rahul also based his campaign on the faulty inputs of his data team.
Salman Khurshid’s remark that Rahul Gandhi deprived the Congress an opportunity to analyse reasons for the Lok Sabha poll defeat, by quitting as party chief, may be ‘breaking news’ on channels, but top Congress leaders have for long held the view that Gandhi’s resignation was to divert attention from his ill-fated poll strategies which would have been the focus of attention otherwise.

After Congress lost the 2014 polls, party chief Sonia Gandhi had instituted the Antony Committee for an official post-mortem. Several party leaders believe Rahul and his team of ‘professionals’ who selected the planks and executed the party’s poll strategy, often by elbowing out the collective leadership, prevented the unearthing of inconvenient truths by not having an institutional probe.

During the campaign, there were differences in the leadership about the larger strategy Team Rahul had adopted against the Modi regime. While some leaders felt the party should use several planks — economic crisis post-demonetisation/ GST, farm distress, unemployment and social strife under the Modi regime — and Rafale should be just one of the planks, Team Rahul made it a Bofors-like theme, according to a party insider. Congress leaders, however, saw no parallel as there was no VP Singh-like revolt in the Modi government or expose on kickbacks, or alleged money trail linking it to people close to the PM. Consequently, Rahul’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan proved insufficient to make Rafale ‘electorally spicy’, even as Modi retaliated by using his nationalist plank, post-Balakot.

Many leaders also cautioned against making it a ‘Rahul Vs Modi’ fight. The party had skilfully avoided a ‘Vajpayee Vs Sonia’ theme in 2004 by juxtaposing the NDA regime’s incumbency burden against its ‘Shining India’ plank, while also tapping the anger over Gujarat riots and the collective strength of a large Opposition alliance. However, Team Rahul insisted on making it a ‘Rahul Vs Modi’ fight, to the PM’s advantage. Too much effort on building Brand Rahul also led to negligence of alliance coordination in Bihar, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. DMK-led Tamil Nadu was the only state where an alliance clicked. Despite Congress wins in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP a few months before the LS polls, Rahul could not match up to the Modi factor and his ‘Nyay Yojna’ promise crashed as the NDA government transferred cash directly to voters.

Congress leaders with base and appeal were under-utilised too, even as Team Rahul made Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sam Pitroda star campaigners who gifted BJP controversies. Rahul also based his campaign on the faulty inputs of his data team, whose head Praveen Chakravarty he had handpicked. Absence of a postmortem avoided examination of the credibility of the data from the Shakti App. Further, many were pessimistic about Rahul’s temple run as his makeover as a Shiv bhakt only entrapped him in a Sangh Parivar ‘akhara’. Selection of UP Congress candidates and the Priyanka-led revival project too lost credibility after Rahul fled to Wayanad.

With Sonia Gandhi’s return, there seems to be some informal course correction: The Congress has stopped harping on Rafale; Rahul is going abroad more and less to temples; his data specialist has been grounded and Sidhu and Pitroda have vanished from the campaign scene. A Rahul aide’s suspicious push for cadre-building on RSS lines too has been blocked.

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