Of all the qualities a man is admired for, the one that most becomes him in the eyes of the public is grace after failure.
You can mess up miserably, bungle, make a complete ass of yourself — but if you handle yourself with some amount of humility, a fair bit of dignity and a huge quantity of humour, you not only can get away with it, you can in fact earn a few brownie points while you do so.
How should Rahul Gandhi individually and the Congress party collectively handle their “Oops, we goofed!” moment after the Uttar Pradesh election results?
From the looks of it, the former has not fared too badly. Conceding defeat, taking responsibility, congratulating the victor, and moving on seem to have come naturally to Rahul. If there have been any churlish sour grapes, teeth-gnashing angst, finger-pointing and looking for scapegoats, we have not been privileged to see it.
Gandhi Jr has accepted responsibility, appears to have come to terms with his electoral drubbing and moved beyond it, if his public outings are anything to go by.
Not so his party. Even before the grim results of their miscalculated strategy began to sink in, Congress heavyweights seemed to be tying themselves in knots with their attempts to de-link him from the debacle.
A paucity of on-the-ground organisational support, the prominence of regional satraps, the lack of a local leader and complex caste considerations have been trotted out by men and women whose sycophancy seems to be on autopilot when it comes to shielding Rahul-baba.
Do they not realise that they are doing more harm than good to their leader? By appearing to want to shield Rahul from the UP thrashing they further polish his image of entitlement and privilege. By refusing to blame him and his strategy they more emphatically underline their own toadying.
This kid-glove conspiracy plays into the hands of Rahul’s detractors, who resent him for the very qualities that his party colleagues are unknowingly highlighting.
So much better (and more natural) to display their genuine disappointment, their bewilderment at their dismal performance and their disillusionment with their leader, so that they are in tune with the media and public’s response.
It might win Rahul the sympathy factor, too. If the media and the public smell a bloodletting, being contrarian they might just begin to see him as a Hamlet-like failed prince and rush to his defence.
In a country of more than 1 billion people who face defeat and challenges every day of their lives, Rahul’s public humiliation might come in for some serious empathy.
It is a funny business, this one of when to thump your chest in victory and when to retreat with your tail between your legs.
Hollywood knows it better than most. Even though it’s the winning speech that elicits the most comment, can anyone deny that it’s the faces of the defeated nominees that we most recall as they clench their teeth and appear to smile graciously in defeat?
I began this column by saying that grace in failure is a man’s most endearing quality in the public domain.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer email@example.com