Rahul Gandhi is a busy man these days. The Congress Vice President has been trundling around Uttar Pradesh, attempting to bolster his party's fortunes in India's biggest state, even though the polls aren't very promising. Gandhi's yatra through UP hasn't gone unnoticed, although the first burst of coverage came from people stealing the cots laid out at special themed rallies.
That initial coverage has given way to the more steady routine of Congress rallies, as Gandhi tries to convince the people of UP – farmers in particular – that a vote for his party wouldn't go to waste. The Congress, which has enlisted political strategist Prashant Kishor, is betting big on convincing farmers while also targeting the Brahmin community that is believed to be unhappy with both the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In fact, posters have even turned up in Mathura, adding the word "pandit" next to Rahul Gandhi's name, hinting at the vice president's own Brahmin status (which he has brandished in the past). Gandhi gave a rare interview to the Times of India, which was published on Wednesday, in which he answered a question about these posters, by making a claim that should have the rest laughing.
Q: There are posters of you in Mathura playing up your image as 'Pandit' Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi: (laughs) We're not a dictatorial organisation. We are a decentralised party. We don't have one single gentleman deciding every day how everyone will work. We don't believe in that, we don't want that. People have different opinions. I can't control every poster that goes up."
Anyone somewhat familiar with the recent history of the Congress would know how entirely accurate Gandhi's parenthetical laughter is. He might be accurate on one point: The Congress is decentralised in Uttar Pradesh in part because it barely has any presence in the state, having hovered at around 10% or under in terms of vote share for the past two decades. This is why it has had to reach out to Kishor and, presumably, include many in the party outreach efforts who aren't otherwise Congress members.
But not dictatorial? There is a reason that the term "High Command" is more closely associated with the Congress than any other entity in the country. A look at the Congress' evolution over the last few years, when its numbers in the Lok Sabha were brought down to a historic low of 44 seats in 2014, have suggested a party that is even more centralised than before.
Not counting its electoral losses in Kerala and Assam, the party also has lost some or all of its grip in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and continues to look shaky elsewhere. Analysis of these failures of the party often lead back to the High Command, suggesting that disgruntled members failed to get audiences with Rahul Gandhi or were unable to convince him to change his mind. Even in crucial states like Punjab, the High Command almost took too long to make the decision appointing Amarinder Singh as the face of its campaign in the state.
In the same interview, Gandhi managed to also mouth another boilerplate comment that is at odds with all the political strategising the party has put forward so far – with Kishor often speaking directly to journalists about targeting Brahmins.
Q: Do you endorse the Brahmin narrative of the UP campaign?
Rahul Gandhi: I don't believe in caste, nor endorse any of that. UP needs to get out of this morass. The only way to do that is to become a party that represents everybody equally. My view is the Congress is a party for all.