What should we expect from 2023? Will Rahul Gandhi be a serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his gains from Bharat Jodo Yatra? What’s Modi up to in 2023?
Observing Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, it’s clear that Congress will step in 2023 with high hopes.
In upcoming elections of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, it’s pitted directly against BJP. For both national parties, 2023 will be a difficult and equally challenging election year.
Rahul Gandhi has added heft to his standing within the Congress and other non-BJP leaders by showing his physical stamina and steely determination to walk 3,500 km, cutting across 12 states in 150 days.
The Ideology battle of Bharat Jodo Yatra
Bharat Jodo Yatra is one of the most energetic attempts by Congress to show that it has the capacity for pan-India event management like BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s backroom boys, by projecting the Congress leader in a certain fashion, have exploited social media to change his branding of “Pappu” to a Rahul of Karan Johar films who is muscular enough, compassionate towards have-nots, respectful to women of all age groups and an attentive listener.
The old party has also showed that it does have massive resources to mobilise the crowd and conduct its biggest “public connect” exercise, efficiently.
None can deny that Rahul Gandhi has made a leap forward in the ideology battle but his political judgement remains as weak as it has been.
Whatever be the public snide, memes and political response, the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) never take any ideology lightly. The yatra will be remembered more for his ideological pursuit than his understanding of real politics. He avoided going to Gujarat, he spoke against VD Savarkar and hence displeased his ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and now, he is inviting Mehbooba Mufti in his Jammu and Kashmir stint.
Interestingly, Rahul’s yatra has kept BJP’s ideology, as Rahul views it, as its sole target. Rahul has been unable to unnerve BJP strategists seriously. That is because Congress won the Himachal Pradesh election without the support of Rahul’s yatra and BJP’s voters largely seem to have stayed away from him.
Rather, one section of BJP voters —influenced by BJP’s daily counter to the yatra — sees Bharat Jodo Yatra as “anti-Hindu.” While watching the footage of the Bharat Jodo Yatra on a TV channel, a reputed Mumbai-based film producer-director and supporter of Modi pointed a finger towards Rahul and Kamal Hasan and told me, “Why is Rahul inviting only known “anti-Hindu” celebrities?”
However, BJP under the leadership of Modi can never be a mute spectator of its arch-rival Congress’ success, even if it’s not a serious political threat.
Time is the most important factor in politics, always. When Rahul Gandhi returns to his Tughlak lane home in New Delhi after completing the successful yatra in Srinagar, he will find that his endeavor was a bit late in the day.
Also read: 100 days of Bharat Jodo Yatra: How Congress proposed and Rahul Gandhi disposed
BJP on China crisis
PM Modi is moving ahead with one more ambitious plan in 2023. In the year of G20 presidency, Modi is taking India into a different gear and wants to engage people into new discourse. The G20 is a timely opportunity for Modi in his long and upward-moving career graph.
Look at the way the Modi government reacts in crisis. Their fundamental maxim is to not allow control over debate slip out of hand.
On the eve of the winter session of Parliament, China had again transgressed into Indian territory at LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. Their attempts were successfully halted by the Indian Army.
The BJP made plans to ensure that during the Parliament session, a re-energised Congress — due to ongoing yatra —doesn’t get an upper hand in the debate over China’s aggression and on other important issues.
As soon as the Parliament session started, Rahul Gandhi and Congress unleashed a furious attack over the China issue. PM Modi asked many of his senior ministers to brief select media over breakfast during the session. The cabinet ministers were given exhaustive “briefs” to speak on subjects not pertaining to their own ministries.
Union minister of environment and labour, Bhupender Yadav kickstarted the series of interviews by inviting reporters over breakfast. He spoke extensively on steps taken by the government for the welfare of the poor. All the cabinet ministers in their respective media briefings were accompanied by one Minister of State and two BJP MPs. These junior ministers and MPs in turn briefed many more journalists. In one week, over a hundred Delhi-based journalists were bombarded with what all the Modi government is doing on the development front, improving governance and helping the poor.
Yadav gave exhaustive data of free ration provided by the Modi government during Covid, how it continues the dozens of welfare measures and how the disadvantaged are getting money directly in their hands.
Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan spoke on the tribal issues and steps taken by the government while railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw spoke on good governance. Vaishnaw was quite well-versed with the subject not pertaining to his ministry.
Health minister Mansukh Mandaviya spoke on education and minister of Jal Shakti, Gajendra Shekhawat spoke on economy. Civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia spoke on the government’s vital decisions in the health sector. It was quite odd to see the information and broadcasting and sports minister Anurag Thakur speaking national security and counterterrorism.
Imagine how much space these not-so-new data, supplied by the government, occupied on newspapers and TV news channels when Congress was attacking the Modi government inside and outside the Parliament over China’s mischief at the border.
Also read: G20 is India’s time under the sun. But only grand imagination, not realism, can transform it
Vishwa Jodo Yatra
Narendra Modi’s life has been through incredible ups and downs. In public life, the first important event for him was working as an RSS pracharak formally in 1972. Before that, he was an activist who participated in the Gau Raksha movement, anti-price rise, inflation and other movements. Another important phase was when he co-authored the historic success of BJP in 1995 assembly elections along with his seniors Keshubhai Patel and Shankarsinh Vaghela. In 2001, Modi became Gujarat’s chief minister and kickstarted a new era in the state politics. When he became Prime Minister in 2014, he uprooted an old style of national politics and has been doing things that were unthinkable just two decades back.
At 72, he is entering a phase wherein he will have to put forward his lifetime’s work in game-changing years of 1972, 1995, 2001 and 2014 onto a grandeur platform. One of his cabinet ministers who briefed the media told me, “Modi ji served Gujarat, then, served India and now he will serve humanity on a global platform.”
The idea of India becoming vishwaguru (world leader) is not new. It has been spoken about by the BJP many times but in 2023, if the Modi government is thinking of connecting more with global leaders, world economies and people then the issue of development has to take center stage not in academic or political sense but in real sense.
When Rahul will end Bharat Jodo Yatra on 30 January — Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary — and likely blame RSS and BJP “for rising hatred and anger” in the country, Modi will embark on his Vishwa Jodo Yatra. With economic challenges, border tensions with China, crucial state elections, a re-energised Congress and the ambitious G20 plans before him, it’s likely that 2023 may turn out to be one of the busiest years in Modi’s career.
Sheela Bhatt is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @sheela2010. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)