How to be the Prince of the Political Playground: A Lesson for Rahul Baba


How to be the Prince of the Political Playground: A Lesson for Rahul Baba

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It has been an eventful week for Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who seems to be playing the famous Rabindra Sangeet, “Ekla Cholo Re”, on loop. Incidentally, this was the same song that inspired his grandmother, the late Indira Gandhi, whenever she found herself running out of friends. Which, as we know, happened quite often.

But the Congress under RaGa, is not exactly the Congress under Indira. While IG could afford to walk the leadership talk alone, the grandson needs as many allies on his side as Jon Snow, to take on the Night King and his army of White Walkers.

The political battlefield is a playground and Rahul Baba needs to think beyond winks and hugs, cheeky tweets and puns to counter his rival’s carefully projected Ironman avatar. You got to play fast, you got to play smart. And you got to stop scoring own goals. No more chaiwala and chowkidar quips, please.    

Given all that is at stake for the Congress, one expected RaGa to be a bit more enthusiastic about making friends with benefits. But the Congress chief is behaving like that brat we have all met in our playgrounds – you know the one who thinks he can call the shots because he has the best bat or ball in his possession?  

The confidence is great, but can he get the numbers? Unless Baba knows something about May 23 that even the BJP does not, he may need to rethink his solo act a little.

Political alliances are no child’s play. Though they have all the requisite material to qualify as one. There will be hysterical tears and manic laughter, much foot-stomping  and hand-wringing, some secret pacts and public spats. But deciding who to play with and how to play, is one of the first things we learn as kids. Here are some lessons for the Congress and friends, culled from the playing fields of childhood.

Katti batti

The way we spell our dosas and call the kaddu by its many names, says a lot about where we come from. But if there’s one thing that unites us, prevailing over our many “adult” differences, it is the universal language of katti-batti and its variations. That powerful gesture of raising an angry and emotional pinky in defiance, to unfriend someone who you don’t want to talk to, is something kids are familiar with almost everywhere you go. Our politicians are no different either – L K Advani and M M Joshi are definitely katti with their friends in the BJP, and after RaGa compared Mamata Banerjee to Modi ji, I’m pretty sure Didi is smarting too.

But unless it is a “life-katti” over something as serious as switching parties at the last moment (looking at you, Shatrughan Sinha), the distance between katti and batti is no more than a few seconds. The best way to win over someone who you’ve had a tiff with is by giving up a little space next to you on the swing or a lollipop. In political parlance it means seat-sharing or offering a plum position in the government.   

Lesson for the Congress: When you are taking on a political Goliath, giving away a tiny inch of political toehold may just go a long way in getting rid of that life katti stamp. Case in point, Didi of Bengal, who has been bravely driving the other (read non- Congress) alliance. As was evident in his recent interview to The Telegraph, RaGa is keen to hum that Ekla Cholo Re in public, while quietly acknowledging she might just come in handy when it is time to do some serious number crunching. After all, what was that thing again about enemy of an enemy?

Sharing is caring

This is the first lesson imparted to children by well-meaning, conscientious adults. No toy, no piece of chocolate, no bus seat or skipping rope is too small or short to be shared with a friend. Or so we are told. This is true even when it comes to seat-sharing. “Sharing is caring” is something we remind our playmate who is not too keen on giving us a go at his brand new trike. This usually works.    

Lesson for the Congress: There is wisdom in generosity. Especially when it comes to seat-sharing. And Rahul Baba needs to keep this in mind before he takes a final call on the Congress-AAP alliance in Delhi. Kejriwal’s party is popular in the capital and the Congress, which neither has an MP or MLA in Delhi, can do with a few good men.

The Good Old Ganging Up   

Remember the time when strangers turned best friends in the blink of an eye when we were children? It’s not that different in politics either. Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have had an on-again, off-again dosti. Ditto for Naveen Patnaik and Modi. Our PM is an ace hugger while Amit Shah is the Hafeez Contractor of political alliances. But the Congress chief is struggling in the BFF department.  

Lesson for the Congress: When negotiating unfamiliar or even the hostile territory, think out of the box to forge new friendships. Case in point, Uttar Pradesh. Ahead of the elections, even bitter rivals Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party buried the hatchet. Yet the Congress, which has the same agenda as the two – defeat the BJP – failed to join the gang. But all is not lost. A post-poll strategy will need some deft handling. Maybe leaving a few seats vacant for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance is not a bad idea to begin with.