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Failed cover-up of Rahul’s China visit: Can Congress afford another embarrassment?

Failed cover-up of Rahul’s China visit: Can Congress afford another embarrassment?

By Saarthak Anand

The Indian National Congress continues to be in agony.  In the latest episode, the party did an embarrassing volte-face over the news of its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi meeting the Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui on July 10. The meeting assumed significance due to the ongoing standoff between the two countries in the Doklam plateau.

When denial changed to admission

While party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala initially denied the meet, calling such reports “fake news”, he later admitted that Gandhi had met the Chinese Ambassador, the Bhutanese Ambassador, and the former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.

Gandhi himself stepped in later, tweeting that it is “my job to be informed on critical issues”. In an attempt to deflect attention from the flip-flop, he questioned why three Union Ministers were “availing Chinese hospitality” while ties continue to be strained. He was referring to the China visit of the Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for Tourism and Culture Mahesh Sharma and Health and Family Welfare Minister JP Nadda, last week for various BRICS conferences. He also posted a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding that “I am not the guy sitting on the swing while a thousand Chinese troops had physically entered India”, referring to a similar border dispute in 2014.

Interestingly, the Chinese Embassy, too, had posted on its website that the two had met and “exchanged views on the current Sino-Indian relations”, only to delete it once the controversy grew in scale.

It is quite commonplace for ambassadors and heads of state to regularly sit down with opposition leaders. Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador was nothing different. What is intriguing, however, is the manner in which the Congress managed to leave itself red-faced over the event.

Congress and the series of blunders

The China visit cover-up is only one incident in a series of Congress’ self-inflicted wounds. Most recently, it had kept on pondering over the question of nominating a Dalit for this month’s Presidential elections, only to allow BJP to steal a march by nominating Ram Nath Kovind. Instead of taking the opportunity to earn acclaim for its role in the launch of the Goods and Services Tax, the Congress decided to boycott the midnight ceremony, allowing the PM to grab all the credit.  

The party stood befuddled as BJP stitched rapid alliances to form governments in Goa and Manipur, despite winning fewer seats. Congress watched helplessly as its government was overthrown in Arunachal Pradesh.

The demise due to dynastic politics

India’s Grand Old Party is a shadow of its former self. It is losing states with every subsequent election. It heads governments in only 5 states, and is a junior partner in Bihar, with 27 of the Assembly’s 243 seats. BJP, meanwhile, continues to spread its footprint. The saffron party is in government in 17 states.

The contrast between BJP and Congress is more organisational than it is ideological; the dynastic nature of the Congress is not helping its cause. While the BJP brass comprises of leaders who have worked at the grassroots, Congress’ heir apparent has no such experience.  He is a hesitant politician who has invariably exhibited a lack of leadership qualities. Factionalism is widely prevalent in the party’s state units. Prominent regional leaders, feeling sidelined, have left the Congress. What is left of the grassroots organisation is ridden with nepotism, with little chance for an ordinary worker to rise through the ranks. Despite the slew of bruising losses over the years, there are regular calls for Rahul Gandhi to take over as party President.

It is time for self-introspection

The nation needs a healthy opposition party. The Congress continues to turn a blind eye to its disarray. It must, at least, improve its ground-level organisation. Regional leaders require greater autonomy, as the Punjab elections, the only favourable outcome for the party in a long time, exhibited. In order to take on the BJP’s well-oiled communication machinery, it needs to look for an agenda. The Congress must find a reason to exist, offering an acceptable alternative brand of politics.

This recent incident has shown that it is far from doing so. Instead of criticising BJP on the border issue where it is vulnerable, the  Congress entangled itself in a mess of its own making. Issues like demonetization and the recent farmer protests could have been easily hyped to the party’s advantage, but it let the opportunity go begging. Unless good sense prevails, the Indian National Congress will continue run itself to the ground; it does not need the Bharatiya Janata Party to do it.

Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt

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