To go after Modi or not? Congress struggles with new doubt

A section in Congress believes that attacking PM Modi has not helped the party, and has boomeranged in some cases, and therefore the party needs to change its communication strategy.

RUHI TEWARI

With its opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi failing to find political or electoral traction and the ruling BJP growing from strength to strength, the Congress has begun re-working its communication strategy, hoping to make it more effective and convincing.

Highly placed sources in the party said there has been a serious internal debate over what its future strategy for taking on the government, the BJP and most importantly, Modi, should be. There is one school of thought that believes that attacking PM Modi has not helped the Congress at all, and has in fact boomeranged in some cases.

For instance, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s comment in October accusing Modi of doing “khoon ki dalali” (trade of blood) with the blood of soldiers in the aftermath of the surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir did not go down well with the people at all, putting the Congress on the defensive. Many in the party believe this comment had the same adverse impact as Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) comment against Modi in 2007 when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.

At a party convention in January, Rahul said demonetisation was the “personal decision” of the PM and that he had “destroyed the soul of India”. Modi, meanwhile, converted demonetisation into an advantage and used it to change the narrative of his government from “suit-boot ki sarkar” to a government for the poor.

The BJP’s sweeping victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election has reinforced Modi’s unwavering popularity and the complete pointlessness of the Congress party, including its top leadership, constantly criticising him.

Given Rahul Gandhi’s limited electoral appeal, some leaders in the party believe it is unwise for him to take on the hugely popular Modi head-on. There is, thus, a considered view in the party that it should no longer attack Modi directly and should instead focus on attacking his government, its policies and the party as a whole instead. Sources say there is a strong possibility of this being implemented in the days to come.

However, there is yet another view which does not subscribe to this strategy and feels it would weaken the position of Congress as the primary opposition party if it does not directly target its main rival leader. “It makes little sense to not target the PM and to only make oblique references. The job of the opposition is to attack, why should we back off then?” a party leader said on condition of anonymity.

Sources say this section fears that with the Congress and Rahul not going after the PM aggressively, leaders such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will steal the opposition limelight and project themselves and their parties as the primary threats to Modi. With the Congress reduced to just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and out of power in most states, noise is all it has to make to be counted politically and a section of leaders believe this noise can find resonance only if Modi is directly targeted and provoked into responding.

While this dilemma continues to dominate discussions, there is a sense that the party’s communication strategy might be veering towards the former, which means there would be fewer (if any at all) direct strikes on Modi. Sources, however, add that no final decision has been taken and hence no line has been communicated to its spokespersons yet. Whatever be the final outcome of this debate, it is clear the Congress has realised it is now swimming against the tide of the PM’s political stock.

Ruhi Tewari is Associate Editor with ThePrint. You can follow her on Twitter @RuhiTewari

Picture Courtesy: Official Facebook page of INC & official Facebook page of Narendra Modi

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