Illustration by Soham Sen |
Illustration by Soham Sen |
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Which constituency is Rahul Gandhi addressing? How exactly does he define his base? Or, does he even know what his base is? 

Once upon a nearly-forgotten time, leaders in democracies talked to all citizens. When they were elected to office, they looked after the interests of all, including the very sizeable number who did not vote for them. Because public office was public trust. Now they only talk to what is called their “base”. The rest don’t matter.

Donald Trump is called a ranting idiot and a racist so-and-so by millions. Yet, the nuttier he looks to them, the more his base adores him. All the rest can go take a walk. If you don’t vote for me, don’t expect anything from me.

Take Narendra Modi’s BJP for example. It rides the Hindu vote to power. So, it fields no Muslim candidate in the Lok Sabha and even the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, which has a Muslim population of more than 20 per cent, and sweeps both. It can afford to exclude the Muslims and mostly Dalits from power, because it owns the Savarna, most of the upper- and much of the middle-caste vote. That’s why the 10 per cent reservation is one of the last big actions of its outgoing government.

So, which constituency is Rahul Gandhi addressing? How does he define his base? Does he know what it is? Vanilla anti-Modi-ism can’t be your only proposition to India.

We know that only 31 per cent Indians voted for Modi in 2014 and you can presume many more dislike or disagree with him. They are entertained and encouraged by Rahul’s relentless attacks on him. It doesn’t follow that they will vote for him. If anger against Modi is your only motivation, you will likely pick what you consider the best of the many choices available. In Bengal, it could be Mamata Banerjee, in Uttar Pradesh SP/BSP, in Bihar Lalu Yadav, in Kerala the Left, KCR, Naveen Patnaik and Arvind Kejriwal in Telangana, Odisha and Delhi respectively, and so on.

Even if Rahul’s single-mindedness results in such crippling damage to Modi’s image that people defeat him, does it follow that they will elect the Congress instead? Today, it is most unlikely. Because one proposition (Modi is the worst), doesn’t naturally lead to the other (Congress is the best).

Also read: Dec 2017 to Dec 2018: The year that changed Indian politics after Modi came to power

Until 1989, the Congress base was large enough to win everything: Lower castes, minorities, tribals, Brahmins, some middle-castes and a large number of the very poor. The BJP was then limited to the urban trader and Hindu middle-classes. That’s why Indira Gandhi would derisively call the Jana Sangh/BJP a Baniya party, and almost never a Hindu party.

It follows that until she was in charge, the BJP could never call hers a “Muslim” party, which the waffling UPA decade, beginning with POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) repeal, enabled Modi to do. Once Rajiv Gandhihad begun losing this base in 1989, the Congress had survived, and prospered by aggregating its remaining vote and anti-BJP political forces. Post-2014, it will take more than that to bring the party back in the reckoning.

Approaching the big test about a hundred days from now, Congress doesn’t have a critical mass of loyal voters in any state today, except probably Punjab. It shares the east-central heartland tribals with the BJP. Dalits are elsewhere, Muslims have other choices in key states (Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam), the urban middle-class, especially the large, sub-25 age group, is still essentially pro-Modi. You cannot build a new voter base simply by sweeping together all those disgruntled with Modi under your tent. You can damage Modi, but the benefit will be divided among many, friends and foes.

At this point, Rahul is following the Arvind Kejriwal style of 2010-14. Using Anna Hazare, and much RSS throat power, Kejriwal played a stellar role in destroying the credibility of the UPA, especially the Congress. It was done so masterfully that even Congress people themselves were too psyched out to defend themselves against corruption charges.

It is fashionable to give credit to the BJP and the Vivekananda Foundation, but the main weapon in that war against the Congress was Kejriwal. He was young, trusted, incorruptible, and not bound by vocabularies and hypocrisies of conventional politics. He conjured up the “sab chor hain” image for the Congress party. It is just that most of the voters he persuaded to dump the Congress did not come to him. He had not built a base for that. His gains were confined to Delhi. Elsewhere, he only succeeded in diverting those voters to Narendra Modi.

That is the peril of politics of pure negativity without offering an alternative. For which, you need to define a target base first. This is where Rahul is in danger of ending up. It is heady, and effective, to be an insurgent, but there is enough evidence that all you can then do in a democracy is inflict damage, not win power, and gift it to someone else.

Also read: Modi’s BJP is not just Congress + cow, but it is Congress + cow + Indira Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi’s success in the three heartland states, headline-hunting and most notably on Twitter, has fired the imagination of his intellectual supporters and the Modi-hating Left-liberal commentariat. But they count for too few votes and those millions of retweets and ‘likes’ are not counted by the EVMs. As in guerrilla warfare, Rahul has deftly adapted his tactics on the move. We are asking what is the strategic outcome? What does it add up to?

To toss the slur of being a Muslim party, Rahul has been making televised visits to temples, flaunting his sacred thread and high Brahmin gotra. At the same time, his party has had to be muted on the key secular-liberal issues of the day: Triple talaq, Sabarimala, upper caste reservation.

The same lack of conviction reflected in its convenient walkout from the Lok Sabha on this awful Citizenship Act amendment that effectively codifies the Zionification of India. The debate, here, is not about Zionism. Israel set itself up as an ideological, Zionist state. India gave itself the opposite: A non-ideological, secular constitution. It’s being challenged and the Congress can do no better than walk out. Both Hindus and Muslims in Assam and elsewhere are watching this.

It suits the BJP. This is what its base wants. When it calls the “illegal” immigrants termites, it applauds. If it amends the Constitution to “clarify” that only the Muslims among these are termites, they go rapturous. The Congress doesn’t even know what its base is, or what is it that it wants to build in the next month or so as the campaign begins.

Pure, uncluttered anti-Modi-ism, however angry, can’t be an ideology or an electoral alternative. The best it can do for you is damage Modi enough for him to finish below 200. Can it enable you to cross 100 to begin with? Take a close look at the map of India, count state by state. By May, even if people get greatly disillusioned with the BJP, the Congress will not be their default choice in too many states. That’s Rahul Gandhi’s rude reality check.

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15 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Let us assume Rahul does not know what his base is. Whatever be the base hopefully both modi and Rahul (up to a point) knows when the base is in danger of being usurped or switching sides. If so then one can take the assistance of behaviors of modi and Rahul over the last few days/weeks to understand what the base may be doing. Looking at these indicators it is clear that the base is shifting away from modi. Shifts in vote percentage may also be used as a source.

  2. No party, these days , can offer alternative solutions . Competitive populism is the key. Finally it is the voter who should ask how long he has to depend on these handouts by these parties and why none of them are coming up with employment / development which will make them self reliant. If congress can come up with some such alternative and convince people , it can make a difference. But can present congress leadership has any ideas? People are happy that Rahul is speaking up to Modi, at last. This is after 15 years of probation! Strange! why we should accept a man who takes a decade to qualify himself for the leadership. It is pathetic to see so many senior leaders in congress queuing up sing for a man who is just not suitable for the leadership. One fails to understand what is problem with them. Congress should go for a new leader who has the grasp of our problems. Only then they can come up with a new vision and alternative solutions to county’s problems.

  3. Just listen to Rahul Gandhi in Kisan rally in Jaipur. He knows very well that Framers are the base of Congress.
    In the last election, it was Modi wave based on fake promises of development.

  4. Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist, Barnala(Punjab)

    Shekhar Sahib, we should not forget that we are a part and parcel of 21st century not 20th century !
    I am afraid you (very seasoned in this analysis game)are haunted by old and outdated yardsticks
    of politics as well as electoral politics !

    There is nothing hard and fast in politics nowadays when there is nothing hard and fast in
    adhering to the law of the land, norms, moral propriety and values ! In our system anything can
    happen and nothing can be ruled out !

    Please let me know what base NaMo had in the 2013-2014 ? After almost one year it was evident
    that he thrived on hype,theatrics, ploys, lies and rhetorics to woo a mandate in BJP ‘s favour !

    I wonder you are analysing scenario on the basis and criterion of conservative contours !

    From where did Rahul Gandhi led Congress evolve a base in Chattisgarh to stun and startle Mr.Raman
    Singh led BJP government in saddle for three consecutive terms ?

    You are overlooking one vital factor that it took sizeable amount of time for the Congress to recover from
    its 2014 worst ever poll debacle and then infuse blood in the party rank and file almost from a scratch !
    Then Rahul Gandhi now has many tricks up his sleeves and has learnt the art of taking NaMo head on !
    Since 2018 Rahul has been able to enhance his acceptability and credibility among the masses playing to
    the sentiments of public !

    The fact cannot be denied that Rahul Gandhi’s first and top most priority was to counter NaMo and now he
    is coming up with an alternative narrative to offer to the masses ! Once the leader finds his rhyme and
    rhythm,the base too starts following and springing up spontaneously ! The Congress is grand old party, not
    new one and will not take too long to retain its base ! Moreover, only NaMo is enough to offer the most solid
    and popular base to Rahul Gandhi led Congress !

    Undoubtedly, the Congress is now very much in the reckoning ! It will not be safe and wise to write off the
    revigorated Congress to spring pleasant and unexpected surprises !

    Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala (Punjab)

  5. A senior mediaman with several Padma awards under his belt insists on calling Üpper Caste Reservation, when there exists no such reservation is like RAGA repeating Rafael ad nauseam. For long we have been hearing the media lament that BJP does not field Muslims, while conveniently ignoring that in 70 years, the DMK has not fielded any Brahmin. This is selective mistake finding.

  6. Rahul Gandhi is suffering from an incurable disease known as Rafalophobia. By focusing on this singular issue he spoiled his own prospects. An intelligent guess under the current scenario could be that the nation should be prepared for a non-BJP, non-Congress prime minister. The critical imponderable is who would lend support to this PM and indirectly control the ruling coalition- BJP or Congress and how long such an unstable arrangement last.

  7. Showed my senior maid a few video clips of the Congress President’s visit to Dubai. There was electricity in the air in the overflowing football stadium. Desh ke liye kuchh karega, she asked with hope in her voice. Took us back five years in time. We were watching a campaign speech on TV, one man had been crisscrossing the subcontinent in searing summer heat, filling a fatigued, jaded nation with the hope of change. She had asked me exactly the same question then.

  8. I agree. In fact Rahul Gandhi is blind in Modi hatred, it will cost him dearly or even boomerang on him and people will vote for Modi.

  9. The problem with the Congress party and its leader is it’s rudderless. They hardly have grassroots leaders who will hit the ground and dirty themselves. The wisecracks that the “youth icon” (never mind he’s beyond 40) tweets daily are akin to wonderful one liners from Amul, in size and frequency only. Definitely not in content. His spit and scoot strategy based on lies and half truths, are assiduously nurtured and spread by a loyalist media set who have a debt to repay. After all Padma awards have not been generously distributed to mediapersons without a hidden quid pro quo.

  10. More Rahul talks, faster it is becoming clear to everyone that he is not the alternative to Modi. While he is bettering his public speaking, he can only say a few things again Modi and nothing on what he is offerings. Besides, Modi is smart enough to course correct on real time basis. That leaves us with Modi versus regional parties, rather than Modi versus Rahul.

    Besides, all that we are talking is NDA coming back with fewer seats and Modi not heading the next government. Is that enough for Rahul?

    Modi is too happy to keep on attacking Congress n the family and divert focus from regional parties.

    In view of this, May 2019 will be interesting n entertaining for everyone. What Rahul and Congress will do beyond 2019 is the real question.. particularly after Sonia is no longer active.

  11. But that also doesn’t mean that Modi should not be removed! That he should be replaced BY the Congress, is no body’s contention!

    India was never governed by a perfect person. Nehru Indira Vajpeyi, no one was perfect. And post 2019 too it will not be ruled by a perfect person. But the present incumbent, Mr Modi, who too is obviously not perfect, but who DEFINITELY is encouraging / overlooking a spread of criminality and conspiratorial mediocrity in our country, must be removed.

    By titling his article in this manner Shekhar Gupta seems to be suggesting that since both are “not the best”, Modi and Congress are equally good! That’s not only an erroneous suggestion, but looking at the present state of our society which seems to be sitting on a tinder box DUE ENTIRELY TO Mr Modi’s leadership, even an unpatriotic one.

  12. Excellent ! The analysis is absolutely correct but, its impact will be totally lost on, or not even conveyed by his aides to, Raga. He actually has come to believe firmly that aggressive waving of hands and/or papers, while shouting angrily with put on horrified expressions to cement his blatant lies and made up facts are the way to go to defeat Modi and occupy his chair. The entire Congress party, particularly those who are closest in advising him on ‘tactics’ is responsible for his delusion. But it augurs well for the country, as this is a sure recipe for disaster for the Congress; a REPEAT DISASTER, one may add, which only confirms the long held belief that: Congress can NEVER learn from mistakes.. It is so smug and arrogant.


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