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Jobless workers’ crisis can be Congress’ suit boot ki sarkar moment. It can embarrass Modi

If handled astutely, the crisis affecting lakhs of poor labourers can help Congress corner Modi govt and come out of a deep rut of political irrelevance.

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The ongoing workers’ crisis has the potential to become the Congress’ ‘suit boot ki sarkar moment. It has been five years since the Congress last managed to corner the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre on any issue, displayed its effectiveness as an opposition party, and actually managed to score a political point. 

In 2015, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had forced Prime Minister Modi to go back on his plans to dilute the Land Acquisition Act with his ‘suit boot ki sarkar‘ jibe, and perhaps helped put his government on the path of jan kalyan (public welfare) with a pro-rural emphasis.

Five years later, the uncomfortable reality of the jobless labourers witnessed during the pandemic-induced lockdown — the image of lakhs of people, including children, walking hundreds of kilometres in scorching heat, barefoot and hungry, to reach their villages — has exposed the Modi government’s failure to tackle a crisis. If the Congress is able to handle the situation smartly and astutely, it could be the second big issue on which it can corner Modi and also try to emerge out of political wilderness.

The Congress has traditionally held a strong grip over rural India, which was its strength for long, but has been gradually eaten away by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. But it’s not all over for the Congress. Even today, the party shows glimpses of being able to understand, and potentially tap into, the rural pulse. The workers’ crisis offers it an opportunity to do just that, especially given how ill-prepared and thoughtless Modi and his team have come out looking since the lockdown was first announced on 24 March.

Also read: By sealing Delhi NCR borders, Covid has ended fluidity between where labourers live and work

The lost years

Ever since it was trounced in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress has slipped deeper into a rut of irrelevance. 

Everything it tried, failed. Sustained attacks against demonetisation, questioning the clumsy roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), trying to corner the government on the the issue of a dwindling economy and job losses, and most significantly, Rahul Gandhi’s shrill Rafale tirade — all gave zero results to the Congress. Not just electorally, these efforts failed politically too, leaving no impact — symbolically or otherwise — that could make one say the government had been embarrassed before the Indian public.

On the contrary, a lot of the Congress’ attacks boomeranged, because it took the wrong path of targeting Modi personally (such as the ‘chaiwala’ jibe); and on the issue of corruption, it did so without realising the extent of the PM’s popularity and the voters’ belief in his ‘integrity’.

The ‘chowkidar chor hai‘ slogan coined, and repeated ad nauseam, by Rahul Gandhi was political harakiri. The voters didn’t see the PM as corrupt, and took it as an entitled dynast trying to sully their leader’s image. The Congress needed to attack Modi’s governance, not Modi himself. And for that, it needed to touch the most vulnerable nerve — the Modi government’s inability to deliver on the promises made to the poor and the rural base. This is a new, unsteady constituency for the BJP — traditionally an upper caste, middle class, Brahmin-Baniya party. It still has the potential to make Modi nervous, and Amit Shah worried about his electoral math going haywire.

Also read: This 2008 law could have given migrants safety net for lockdown, but was never implemented

The right nerve

Despite being down and out after its lacklustre performance in the 2014 election, the one thing that the Congress managed to do just right was hit the Modi government where it hurt most — the ‘anti-poor’ image. 

Rahul Gandhi’s supposed takedown of Modi’s monogrammed suit worth lakhs of rupees and buttoning it with a ‘pro-rich, pro-corporate’ image was bang on. It unsettled an otherwise confident Modi, and people have repeatedly heard him harp on welfare, poor and rural policies since then, all the way up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Now, the situation of migrant workers, amplified due to their shabby treatment by the Modi government, has offered the Congress a similar opening. Its president Sonia Gandhi has held meetings with leaders of other opposition parties on the issue, while both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have maintained the pressure on the government. 

Also read: Covid lockdown has ended only opposition politics in India. BJP’s shop is very much open

Congress’ chance

Make no mistake, the Modi government knows how this episode has the potential to snowball into a bigger one, damaging an image it has so carefully crafted for itself since the 2015 ‘suit boot’ fiasco. The Congress does well when it taps into the vulnerabilities of the BJP — the anti-incumbency and farmers’ anger in Madhya Pradesh, an unpopular leadership in Rajasthan, a corrupt government led by Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, a less-than-effective leader in Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, and so on.

For better or worse, the Congress has been decidedly Left of centre, especially under Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. This is precisely why the moment Modi seems insensitive towards the poor or the rural voter, the Congress gets the opportunity to showcase its bleeding heart.

As the images of hapless migrants scrambling to get back to their homes continue to spread far and wide, making sure Modi and his government are haunted by them until the crisis ends, the Congress needs to play its cards right, and step up its attack on the BJP’s inability to take care of the poor. Most importantly, the party must allow both its national and state leaderships to lead this battle from the front. If done right, this could be the beginning of a new dawn for the Congress.

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  1. Th Congress is in irreversible and welcome decline. Shivam Vij(another Congress cheerleader) has in a recent article in Print pointed out how the Congress is actually 3 parties.Ms Ruhi migt reflect on this

    • be thankful that the current bunch of inept heartless ones are also going to be in decline; because quite simply the country is in decline — an that’s being kind in our remarks

  2. So the hit job by the media continues as it fights hard to keep its boas Rahul Gandhi in limelight. Since Rahul himself is a poor failure the onus on keeping him politically alive in people’s mind is on the media which has so far thrived on congress crumbs and owes it an eternal debt. So the media uses all diversionary tactics and feeds Rahul Gandhi with one issue or the other forgetting the poor track record of the man himself and the congress ruled states. He simply runs away from responsibility when Modi loves locking horns with it. After the Uddhav government with congress and NCP as other ruling partners in Maharashtra came under fire for its immature handling of the covid and migrant cases and sensing people’s palpable anger, today Rahul said that he does not have powers and just suporting the Maharashtra government. This when congress has 12 ministers in the Maharashtra cabinet. Every Indian must see this man called Rahul’s attitude in tough times. He just runs away. Is he a man who can be trusted to lead a nation of 135 crore people when a mere Maharashtra is making him abandon the ship. The Print may say anything day in and day out. It will make all attempts to censor negative information on the congress ruled states and how Rahul and Priyanka are shirking their responsibility. The media may support these princelings but for the people of the country both of them and their party stan utterly exposed. Ruhi Tiwari talks of migrants issue. Perhaps she has not done her homework well. Does she know that Piyush Goyal the Union Railway Minister sanctioned 125 trains for migrants to leave Maharashtra but the MVA govt in Maharashtra was not able to provide data for more than 46 trains. So who is failing here Ms Ruhi. Stop these hit jobs. Be a journalist.

    • Fake News. The MVA govyt has been asking for trains since the beginning of lockdown or even before that. The central mafia kept that under wraps. The right thing would have been to let everyone reach home in the normal services and then get a lockdown. Even a class 10 student has written to the PM about this. Why drag Rahu and Priyanka into this. ITS TOTAL FAILURE OF THE CENTRAL GOVT. And the world is watching in horror

  3. Aur desh ka bhala jaye bhaad main.
    Writer has concern for revival of this rotten party only.

  4. BJP governemnet at the center have not done any justice to the migrant labors. The images they are walking bare foot carrying their children on hands is really heart breaking. Government did not act in time to give any sort of help to the poor migrant labor. Instead of long speeches and tall promises; this government need to take concrete measures with sensitivity .

  5. If at all the “Suit Boot Ki Sarkar” was made to stick to the Modi, it was more because it could have stuck to every Government since 1947.
    It was more of wishful thinking by section of media who had lost clout over night.
    They are all hoping and praying that some thing should go wrong nationally or internationally so that this man will loose power. Anyone will do but not him

    • Another attempt to revive an almost dead party. They fail to understand that so long as RAGA is in top position, party will not be taken seriously. No one, except die hard sycophants of RAGA take him seriously ir hope for revival of the party. It may win a few battles here snd there BUT never be able to win a national war.

  6. It looks like the author is a vulture. He is asking the death bed congress party to feed on dead bodies. So much of negativity, oh my God. When the PM is selflessly tackling tough global economic synario, challenges, COVED crisis, instead of helping, this guy wants to create chaoes. Let me tell this criminal do what you want, scream what ever you want by 2021 middle Indian economy will become strong. In 2024 congress is likely to get 10 seats maximum.

    • nobody is d=feeding on dead bodies except the present government. The payment is in Amphan and Locust. The almighty has many ways and more will come to strike this nation of unnatural bhakts. Their bodies also have a stink now

  7. Did dynasty lovers not predict the same during demonetisation? And we know the outcome. Was this article written after talking to enough number relevant people or in the confines of her home under the pressure of publish or perish?

  8. What i fail to understand is the author’s ignorance of the fact that migrant workers existed much before modi even became the CM of Gujarat. For decades the poor in the rural parts of UP, MP, Bihar, Bengal,Odisha etc. have always been forced to move to big cities or wealthier states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab etc. for earning living wages. They have suddenly become visible now as they are walking but they have been moving unseen in trucks, unreserved coaches, cycles, bullock carts for decades now. I am happy they are getting thier due attention but it cannot be the sole blame of the government. We have exploited our fellow countrymen and continue to do so for decades now. Dont blame, work towards a solution.

  9. Foreget about milking the migrants walk for mileage. Try to understand the real reason why congress is dumped into the garbage can by people of India. People do want a strong congress as opposition. Democracy can not be called democracy so long as there is no opposition. But take this for granted. So long as Mussolini’s grand children head this party not one sane indian will vote for it. It is right now in the garbage tin. After the next election people of India will throw this garbage to where it really belongs.

  10. Congress need to work at grass root level, strengthen it’s Cadre at grass root(ground )level, arranging Buses for migrants was a master stroke by Congress. Similarly then need to tap other issues and contribute in i the welfare of citizens/ts resolution. Blame game should be stopped, keep doing the good work. “Work will speak for them” Below are main issues they can work on it

    1) Unemployment
    2) Malnutrition
    3) Climate Change(minimum they can dobis plant more trees)
    4) How to revive the economy

    Thats the only way they can review the party, else they are on the verge of being wiped out.

    They should be less on twitter and more on ground works.

    • Today only Rahul the congress chief has said that his party is not responsible for the dangerous situation in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai. And he speaks this when congress has 12 ministers in Uddhav’s government. How shameless can one get. Please remember Rahul wants power but no responsibility. Yesterday another Maharashtra minister Anil Deshmukh has promised congress that he will open all cases against Arnab of Republic. So these are the priorities of the Maha vikas aghadi in auch terrible times of corona. No wonder people are losing faith very fast in these rulers. So while you have done well to suggest congress what its priorities should be, please remember Rahul is not man enough to handle them. He is a shirker. He somehow wants to be the PM by constantly criticising Modi so that whatever good is left in this country he and his family can destroy that too.

  11. Modi has shown himself as a socialist more than capitalist . Demonization , loads of welfare schemes e.g direct cash transfers , lack of privatization etc etc . The average Poor see him as one of them who made PM and don’t blame their poverty on him . Now RG and PG are seen as people born with a silver spoon . Well meaning but clueless . And when will print stop this leftist propoganda and come to centre of topics

    • It is futile to expect this from Print. Please remember The Print is headed by Shekhar Gupta who is a die hard supporter of the congress since decades. His journalism has thrived not on his own credentials but on the doles he and many auch journos got for being a part of the congress eco system. He destroyed the Indian Express which he headed for a long time and made it into a congress mouthpiece. Now his work is being carried forward by another Left congress crony Rajkamal Jha. Mr Ramnath Goenka the towering founder figure of the Indian Express, who didnt submit to Indira Gandhi’s threats even during emergency would have been aghast to see the way his paper is being run. But this is the misfortune of this country where most mediamen support the corrupt and communal while a handful who expose them are arrested, interrogated for 12 hours and threatened with dire consequences, even physically attacked.

  12. To See Modi ji out of Delhi s seat of power has been wishful thinking and agenda of many of journalists— “Pressitutes “ as christened by a retired General of India. But they forget to remember that India has changed drastically from the days when they were getting tuition from leftist Madrasas which taught then only sycophancy in the name of journalism. They go on spreading fake news, fake hopes about revival of dynasty and a dying party—Congress– with out analyzing the broad political trend of happening of last three and half decades. When was last time this party got majority ? in 1984. That too under tragic times of death of incumbent Prime Minister and emotions were raised to high pitch to capture the seat of power . More over there was No Opposition party worth name at that time.
    The period between 1989 to 2014 saw the attempt by the Indian voters to search for a viable alternatives in combination of parties. Coalition Governments were formed and replaced as soon as possible. With the advent of new generation of voters , who are highly educated, better informed, –getting numerical strength , the tainted Congress party was shown its correct place in Election -2014 when this party failed to secure even 10 % of the seats – 44 out of 544 seats in LOksabha and was not considered to be fit to be a “RECOGNISED OPPOSITION PARTY “ by the voters of India. . In Elections – 2019 people of India re-indorsed their earlier verdict. Instead of reforming itself and getting rid of persons who were cause of its second consecutive defeat, the ruling dynasty/ family let loose a battalion of pliable journalists to oppose and dis-credit the Modi ji and his Government without evaluating the consequences , with narrative of falsehood . The top brass of the party tried to mislead the people with slogans—Chowkidaar chor hai—etc. and got answers from the voters in results of Election-2019 .
    When the major part of the world and India are beset with a life threatening pandemic in 2020 , and the Government led by Modi ji is marshalling every possible resources to mitigate the impact of deadly Covid-19 with the strategies and tactics as suggested by the experts in the field of virology, Medical sciences , and various other experts , Congress party and its faithful journos are trying hard to attack the Government led by Modi for the shortcoming without realizing that most of the problems being faced today are not new one, rather “STRUCTRAL “ , WHICH HAVE BEEN MANIFEST NOW – like inadequacy of health infrastructure, lopsided development of Indian states which resulted into two type of states in India—one labour employing and others Labour exporting states— , lack of social security net work worth name for millions of workers in orgnised and unorgnised sectors of labour market. All these unsolved problems are here since ages –not from 2014 which Congress –supporting Journalist want us to believe.
    But they should keep in mind voters of today are more enlightened than they think. They understand the problems being faced today better than hired- journalist. Be assured they are not going to bring back darker days of Congress regime. Election — 2024 will bring more seats to BJP as it geographical foot-prints will reach W.Bengal , and southern parts of India by then .
    Hope, Covid -19 will disappear soon and take Congress party along with it to its historical grave.

  13. A crisis which demonstrates how a population explosion was allowed to happen. With the help of undereducated jhollawallas and rent a journalist , congrass was able to rule by giving enough help to get votes and come to power to enrich themselves and their loudspeakers. Even now a CONGRASS journalist ISO discussing how they were responsible for the present state of affairs is advising them to use the misery of masses to come back to power. Such shameless journalist with lack of ethos.

  14. In the moment of crisis…how congress can turn it into opportunity…is that what The Print has come down to…how low do you want to stoop to…? Dont make it evident with your every article about your lineage…we all know it goes towards Congress.

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