Rahul Gandhi: The Prince That Was Promised to Congress, But Never Showed Up


Rahul Gandhi: The Prince That Was Promised to Congress, But Never Showed Up

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

At the beginning of this week, the most morose group of fans were the Game of Thrones enthusiasts. The show’s last-ever episode aired on Monday morning, and the dumpster fire that was the show’s final season bowed out to the sound of disappointed sighs rather than ecstatic applause. But GoT fans weren’t to be the most dejected bunch in the country for too long. They would soon be overtaken by Congress supporters. Thursday saw the votes being counted for the Lok Sabha elections, and no amount of shoddy writing or poor character development can compare to the crushing defeat inflicted on the Opposition, especially its Golden Boy Rahul Gandhi.

Perhaps there are parallels to be found in both these ill-fated ventures – Rahul’s election campaign and the final season of GoT. Both began with a hefty serving of hype. Rahul criss-crossed the country, meeting with other Opposition leaders (to varying degrees of success) in an attempt to carve out a pre-poll alliance before the big festival of democracy. Meanwhile GoT’s final season was surrounded by once-in-a-generation levels of buzz, as the show we’ve obsessively followed for nine years reached its climax.

Once both began in earnest, there was a common reliance on theatrics over substance. Rahul made tall claims of monetary handouts, levelled accusations of corruption, and generally blustered about as if his victory was a foregone conclusion. Season 8 gifted us some of GoT’s most visually stunning scenes, with several highly anticipated fan service moments like the Battle of Winterfell and the Cleganebowl taking place on frames that looked like classical paintings, even if they lacked the same evocative quality. But without a doubt, the greatest similarity between Rahul’s campaign and GoT Season 8 is the feeling of utter dissatisfaction at the way things panned out in the end.

In the first five seasons, when the writers of the show were still adapting the novels of George RR Martin, there was careful foreshadowing that hinted at what was in store for Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, and everyone else. One of the most important clues from the early seasons was the prophecy of The Prince That Was Promised, whom we will call PTWP going forward, as fellow GoT nerds will already be aware. The PTWP is supposed to be a mythical hero, destined to be born “amidst smoke and salt” and save the world of men from the darkness that threatens to overwhelm it. Seems like a pretty important character, but the slipshod writing of the final season failed to give this storyline its due importance, leaving it as one of the most glaring loose ends on the show as it went off the air.

The PTWP never showed up on GoT, but maybe Rahul Gandhi was the hero who was waiting in the wings all along.

Some fans believed the PTWP was Daenerys, until she turned into the Mad Queen. Because Jon Snow is the one who kills the Mad Queen, others claimed he was the PTWP. And a third camp claimed that honour should go to Arya Stark, who killed the undead Night King and saved the world of GoT from turning into The Walking Dead.

All these conflicting theories point to one thing – the writers messed up with the PTWP. After years of conditioning, fans had come to expect one of their beloved characters to turn into an epic, heroic figure, one who would bat aside any resistance on their path to glory. It was all supposed to be pre-ordained; a question of manifest destiny. But real life dealt a cruel blow to believers of the prophecy, and the PTWP never turned up, even as their supporters clamoured for their arrival. Sound familiar?

Rahul Gandhi has been groomed to be the Prime Minister of India ever since he was unpreparedly thrust into the fray as a contender for Narendra Modi in 2014. After his first humbling defeat, he began to work on rebuilding his reputation. By 2017, he was elected president of the Congress, and spent much of the following year coming into his own as the leader of the Opposition. He indulged in camera-friendly hugplomacy and winking, came across as a matured version of his 2014 self in interviews, and in what was his greatest victory to date, saw the Congress unseat the incumbent BJP in three states during the final State Assembly elections in 2018. His renewed vigour was a false dawn, but at the time, many people thought that Rahul might be able to turn things around. He had the political pedigree, and was seemingly capable of wielding it alongside a newly acquired nous for statesmanship. Perhaps he truly was the chosen one, whose destiny included the defeat of Modi. The PTWP never showed up on GoT, but maybe Rahul Gandhi was the hero who was waiting in the wings all along.

If a film director as devoted to elevating Rahul’s character as Omung Kumar is to Modi’s were to make the RaGa biopic, perhaps this will be the narrative the movie presents. But just like real world factors like behind-the-scenes developments and a lack of original source material hampered GoT’s PTWP storyline, reality has also played spoilsport to Rahul’s party a second time around.

Once again, Rahul has been exposed as ill-prepared to fight an election against BJP. When he announced his candidature from two constituencies, Wayanad in Kerala and Amethi in UP, it seemed like Wayanad was just his safety net, one which wouldn’t be needed. After all, Amethi is the Gandhi family’s stronghold for generations, long considered one of the Congress’ bastions in the BJP-dominated Hindi heartland. But now, on counting day, he is staring down the barrel at a defeat to Smriti Irani in Amethi, and with it, the loss of his family’s traditional base. Suddenly, his second choice, Wayanad, is starting to look like his only option.

In a way, I’m grateful for the debacle that has been Rahul’s campaign. As a long-serving (and long-suffering) GoT fan, there is a delicious schadenfreude in watching the hopeless optimism of Opposition supporters go up in flames. We, the fans, are upset that we never got the Prince That Was Promised. But it looks like we, the people of India, won’t be too upset about Rahul Gandhi’s no-show.