by Shubham Ghosh
Has Rahul Gandhi suddenly come of age? The way the Congress vice president has been launching scathing yet calculated attacks on the Narendra Modi government over the last few months, one is wondering what made the former sound so much mature and sensible? Till now, Rahul Gandhi has mostly been treated as a caricature. But his recent takes – in the US and in India – have started conveying a different message to the saffron camp. And the way the saffron leaders have retaliated against Rahul in his own constituency Amethi, it is certainly clear that the Modis and Amit Shahs are not taking the ‘lightweight’ Gandhi lightly anymore.
Politics, we all know, is a domain of unpredictability but does that sufficiently explain the change we perceive about Rahul Gandhi at the moment? It is not that the man has undergone a qualitative change in these few months. Rather, it is the slide of the ruling party which has given him an opening, a much-needed one. Rahul Gandhi, like the tortoise in that legendary race, is taking full advantage of the lapse which Modi’s BJP has seen because of over confidence.
The Congress vice president’s “Modi will bring moon on earth in 2030” was by far the best attack he has launched on the prime minister’s superman image till date. Till the 2014 Lok Sabha election and after, the utter failure of the UPA II government coupled with the execution of a grand propaganda machinery had put Modi beyond everybody else’s reach. Rahul Gandhi had to fight an iron wall at that time and he was destined to lose it badly. His oratory skills came under question as was his political acumen but the real reason why he looked a distant second to Modi is that he and his party had no answer to the BJP’s grand plan and propaganda then.
But just as every over-confident soul scripts his/her own downfall, the Modi establishment went for demonetisation and after all the debates and discussions, Mr Economics gave the verdict that it was nothing short of a disaster. But the Modi regime was in no mood to acknowledge a failure and it went ahead with the Goods and Services Tax, doubling the blow for the lesser players in the economy. And when one adds factors like Gujarati business community’s dissidence against GST, the outburst of former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha over the economic slowdown and the manifold jump in the fortunes of Amit Sah’s businessman son Jay, the fragile stage on which Rahul Gandhi was speaking so far found itself cemented. And the 47-year-old leader is in no mood to squander the rare opportunity he has got. Modi still is the No.1 leader in the country no doubt but he doesn’t have a clear maidan to score goals now.
If demonetisation has put Modi’s economic acumen under the lens and cow vigilantism and minority bashing his claims to an inclusive leader, the Jay Shah episode wouldcast a shadow over the BJP’s anti-corruption and anti-dynasty claims.Development, transparency and inclusive democracy have been the resurgent BJP’s claims before and during the last general elections. All these key pillars seem to have received massive blows, in less than three-and-half years since the NDA took over.
In 2014, the strong anti-incumbency against the UPA II coupled with Rahul Gandhi’s flawed political strategies had helped Modi. But three years after that debacle, when Modi himself is getting burdened with the same anti-incumbency despite putting every effort to run the show smoothly and the prime minister’s super image is found trying to deliver as per the massive expectations he had created before taking over, the Congress is looking like the alternative, despite its own predicaments. The situation resembles that of 2004 when Sonia Gandhi had brought the grand old party back to power from nowhere and a popular prime minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee faced a shocking loss.
Rahul Gandhi and his party have done not anything exemplary to show that they are an alternative to Modi at the moment. They are just playing on the same-side goals that the overconfident rulers of the day has scored and to build on this opening that they have got, the Congress has to produce a good performance in Gujarat. A routine annihilation there would throw it back into the dustbin of history while a decent show in Modi’s hometown could be a game changer ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections.
Indian politics is at an interesting juncture at the moment. Though Modi has won the game one-sidedly so far, he is now entering the most critical part of his tenure and with a series of events unfolding over the last one year, the man has to produce real changes on the ground, especially in the economy, to ensure he gets another term in office. Modi’s disadvantage is that he has hurt the economy and to undo it, the BJP-led NDA needs more than glossy propaganda. On the other hand, the Congress has a good advantage since economic slowdown is always a potent weapon for the Opposition to corner the ruler. The BJP has not really dumped the economic policies of the Congress-led government and this boosts the Congress’s confidence all the more to launch a scathing attack on Modi’s economic policies that have failed to impress the experts.
For Rahul Gandhi who many believe is closest to assuming the Congress’s presidency, the next set of elections is key. For Modi who has had major electoral successes since 2014, the stakes are higher in the economic sector now. It will be interesting to see who cracks it first and puts the opponent under a serious challenge.