Five years ago, Rahul Gandhi had said that the Congress would learn from the Aam Aadmi Party, and would involve people across the country in its campaign "in ways that you cannot imagine right now". This was after the Congress suffered a crushing defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections at the hands of the AAP.
Kejriwal was then riding high on his stupendous success, and was a rising star on the Indian political horizon. He was trying to position himself against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, Rahul, instead of taking lessons on how Kejriwal built a support base for himself and his new party, got into a competitive mode of sorts with the AAP in terms of taking extreme and cynical positions against Modi.
When the Modi government conducted surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, both Kejriwal and Rahul questioned the veracity of the incident, thereby becoming newsmakers in Pakistan. Rahul went a step further, accusing the Modi-led government of carrying out 'khoon ki dalali' with the blood of martyred soldiers. In the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary election, both Kejriwal and Rahul painted Modi as the biggest villain who was out to destroy the Indian polity, economy and society.
But unlike Rahul, Kejriwal is a self-made politician. He had come out of nowhere, created a space for himself through the Lokpal movement, founded his party and subsequently became Delhi's chief minister. After the Lok Sabha results were declared, he must have introspected, taken feedback from the ground level and realised his follies. He appears to have arrived at the conclusion that targeting Modi on every issue had proved counterproductive. After all, Modi has huge goodwill and his support base has only increased in the past five years.
After the Lok Sabha election, Kejriwal changed his approach. He met Modi and congratulated him for winning the parliamentary election for the second consecutive time and becoming prime minister again. He also declared that he would work closely with the Centre to develop Delhi. Subsequently, Kejriwal followed up on his words with his deeds. The changed dynamics in terms of Centre-state co-operation were visible on issues like cleaning of the Yamuna river, water conservation, pollution control, etc.
"We have always worked for the people of Delhi and continue to do so. Our aim is not to fight with an individual or a party. Delhi is the national capital and work can only happen if we work in support with the Central government. Our proposals are getting passed and that is a good thing because it's beneficial for Delhi," Kejriwal said in July this year.
But the biggest change came on 5 August, when Kejriwal decided to support the Modi government on the abrogation of Article 370 Article 35A of the Constitution. He received taunts from his supposed friends in the Opposition, but he stayed on course. The smart politician in Kejriwal seems to have realised the mood of the nation, and that aligning with it on issues relating to national security and integrity would be politically and morally correct.
Contrast this approach with that of Rahul Gandhi. The former Congress president seems to be struck in his own time zone, completely forgetting his remarks from February 2015 about learning from the AAP.
Recently, Rahul Gandhi was quoted in the opening pages of a Pakistani propaganda document on Kashmir presented before the UNHRC. His name was in the company of people such as Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Kavita Krishnan and Arundhati Roy. He didn't listen to the sage advice of his party colleagues such as Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Janardan Dwivedi and others, or the voices of the party cadres on the ground. He also did not listen to the opinions of Jairam Ramesh, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Shashi Tharoor and others, who suggested that the Congress should not "demonise Modi all the time" and that it should "praise Modi whenever he says or does the right thing."
The vertical split in his party notwithstanding, Rahul Gandhi continues to demonise Modi all the time. The fact that he became a poster boy of sorts in Pakistan's propaganda document on Kashmir is a huge embarrassment for the Congress. The former Congress president always speaks of listening to the voices of people, but he clearly does not apply that principle to himself. He also does not seem to listen to his party leaders who, till recently, were his close confidantes. Some of these leaders are trusted for their intellectual calibre, and known for their popular support.
It's time that Rahul Gandhi remembers his own words and takes a leaf out of Kejriwal's book.