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Rahul Gandhi and Congress party can strike a fine balance in taking on Narendra Modi

The Congress party must settle the debate on how it has to take on the BJP government.

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Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra reportedly took offence to Congress leader R.P.N. Singh’s comment last month that the party should target the BJP government and its policies instead of directly attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the Congress Working Committee meeting where Singh expressed his views, Priyanka reportedly talked about how Rahul is often ‘alone’ in the party while taking on Modi. Gandhi is of the view that he isn’t in the wrong because the BJP government does everything in Modi’s name anyway. Also, Rahul seemed to suggest that others were being cowardly since he was “not scared to attack Modi”.

But R.P.N. Singh had a valid point: if the attack seems personal, it backfires. This debate is a result of the Congress party’s refusal to introspect after the 2019 Lok Sabha election defeat. It was clear that Rahul Gandhi’s slogan “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the watchman is the thief) was a personal enough attack on the PM. And it backfired because Rahul Gandhi has very little to offer by way of positive campaigning. Instead of telling voters what he would do for them, he was merely calling the prime minister a ‘thief’. The sole positive campaign, a basic income scheme called NYAY, was launched at the penultimate hour. Manifesto promises such as the all-India farm loan waiver were hardly publicised.

Rahul Gandhi also has a point. The Congress party often comes across as being timid in its criticism of Narendra Modi. While it can easily blame the media for not highlighting its criticism of Modi and his government enough, the Congress itself is also weak in doing so. Rahul Gandhi’s recent attacks on Modi, on issues ranging from the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic to the border stand-off with China, have shown how the Congress party isn’t willing to be as sharp in taking on the Modi government. Could this be cowardice? Are leaders afraid the government would put them in jail? We can only speculate.

Also read: Why the Modi government gets away with lies, and how the opposition could change that

A fine balance 

How an opposition party should project itself before voters is not a hard debate to settle. Quite simply, an opposition party has to convince voters that (a) the government is doing a poor job of running the country, and (b) the opposition party must be voted to power in the next election because it is likely to do a much better job than the current government.

Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party tend to swing between these two imperatives and never seem to get the balance right. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Rahul Gandhi made sure he didn’t criticise the government in his initial comments, and only offered constructive criticism. To take on China, Rahul Gandhi is saying India needs a larger global vision without really explaining what that vision could be.

The balance between positive and negative is very important — the positive must always outweigh the negative. An opposition party needs to make people see the contrast between itself and the party in the government. The greater this contrast, the more the opposition is likely to win the next election.

When Narendra Modi went on a Congress-bashing spree after the failure of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST), he made sure his positive campaigning did not get overshadowed. He made sure we heard of his ‘New India 2022’ more than his barbs on Jawaharlal Nehru.

Also read: Why can’t the opposition tell people to do things from their balconies?

Distribution is king

What this debate also forgets is that the Congress party’s main weakness is not even strategy. It is the lack of campaign. Whether the Congress is attacking Modi or not, whether it is doing enough positive campaigning or not, its words simply don’t reach the voters.

Take, for instance, Rahul Gandhi’s recent series of videos on China. First, they are in English in a country where there is an unspoken consensus that the prime minister must speak in Hindi. By communicating in English, Rahul Gandhi not only immediately distances a large section of Indian population, but he also confirms the Hindutva charge of the Congress being a disconnected elite. The south India excuse can be easily debunked by simply Googling and checking the percentage of English speakers in each southern state. And if it’s a scripted, edited, planned video anyway, why couldn’t Rahul Gandhi also have made a Hindi version of his videos?

If Narendra Modi had put out such videos, he would have made sure they were launched like a campaign. Every district office of the BJP all over the country would have played the video and discussed it in a meeting. Rahul Gandhi’s charge that he is ‘often alone’ in speaking up against Modi is bizarre. It is hard to believe that Gandhi can’t order the party at large to organise events around issues he wants highlighted. It is difficult to believe that if he picks up the phone and asks Congress chief ministers to co-operate in publicising his ideas, they won’t do so.

Blaming the Congress party for his own failure is a cop-out. Again, if Narendra Modi was Rahul Gandhi, he would be party president today, creating campaigns to carry out his message, and handing out every single party leader a task as part of the campaign. He wouldn’t be pleading the party elders, he wouldn’t be seeking their co-operation or trudging through consultation. If Rahul Gandhi is so cocksure he knows how to take on Modi, he should stop making excuses and take up the leadership role waiting for him.

Rahul Gandhi’s supporters claim that he is the only one in the Congress with the courage to take an ideologically honest position against the BJP. They also claim his critics are unfair to him when they don’t acknowledge how his criticisms of the Modi government — from GST to the Galwan Valley — have turned out to be right.

The reason Rahul Gandhi is not able to take credit for these is that he doesn’t translate his words into an on-ground campaign. You only have to see the difference in the BJP’s opposition to the fuel price hikes before 2014 and the Congress’ campaign against rising prices now, and notice how they differ in their outreach. What needs a month-long campaign with daily events is just a series of tweets now. It takes a lot more work to dislodge a government with 303 seats.

The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.

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  1. Today Congress Party is struggling to remain afloat mainly because its leaders are not sure as to how attract people to their side. BJP is using Hindutva to attract people to their side. Their strategy is right as the Hindus are overwhelmingly in majority and deserve their votes. Congress is cold to this type of politics. They were lukewarm to Ram Mandir, attacked BJP on demolition of Babri Masjid. Their think-tank is in slumber and could not realize the pulse of people. Their policy with regard to Ram Setu is again faulty. Nobody knows whether Ram Setu exists today or not. To ascertain the fact a Survey need to be undertaken NOT by an Agency of India but known WORLD body. Let them study the existence or non-existence of RAM SETU and give a Report. This will certainly settle the issue, which is beneficial to the people of India. Congress cannot think on that line. There are several such issues which need to be taken up by Congress to counter BJP policies.

  2. Did you become a Journalist by “siparish” or “aarakshan” (No offense meant to others, since most taking advantage of affirmative action are smart and intelligent except a few) ? Every article you write is utter sh*t.

  3. Yeah.. Rahul Gandhi’s communication appears to be in a vacuum.. It’s not enough to say things, but it’s also important to analyse how his words are perceived. To win power in India, you need to win over the Hindi heartland! To do so, there are a couple of things RG can copy from Modi. One, as pointed out in this sharp article, is to also communicate in Hindi – that’s a no-brainer really. The second is to communicate simply. Can the man on the street really understand what RG is saying?! It needs to be verified.

    Again, as Shivam says, you need to put feet on the ground to be visible. How many voters really follow Twitter? How many Indians know that RG actually predicted the Corona fiasco?!RG must either grab the reins and make a perceivable difference, or make way for someone who will!

  4. ‘Democracy in danger’ – how long is the ‘handful’ journo elite going to run this tirade ? One hand you are so intelligent to even advice Rahul Gandhi but can’t able realize that PM outweighs your smartness too. Instead of being PR for RaGa try to be a PR for your neutrality – the so called 4th pillar.

  5. “Shoe I am “you STUPIDO. We don’t need to take on MODIJI we have asked china and pakistan to do that. We only need to attack MODIJI and spread disharmony among HINDUS. SUPPORT communal elements. And ensure no steps are taken to control population growth . In short keep INDIA WEAK. So that we can support “rent a journalist ” like you. MAMMAMIA.

  6. Power corruption and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For their own sake, the people of India should hope for a credible opposition. We are already seeing the demolition of democracy taking place.

  7. Rahul Gandhi has to rebirth not carrying any trace of his present DNA without a borrowed surname to do what we expect from our political leaders.. by the way we don’t have any expectations from him.. other than entertaining us showing his IQ.

  8. The present Gandhis are not capable to match Modi and they are a liability ! It is better for the congress to leave gandhis in the dust bin.!!

  9. The sympathetic advice coming out of a frustrated and jealous mind is similar to that of the mother of a duffer son who despite all the supplementary tuitions , flunks while the guy across the street despite difficult circumstances consistently qualifies with distinction !
    As a journalist or even as an opinion writer, detachment and impartiality is essential for credibility !

    • more apt comparison would be that the guy across the street is able copy & cheat in the exam and comes out with flying colours ….

  10. Modi is the Sanjay Gandhi of the BJP and RG is an imitation of his father. When it comes to politics there is no way Rajiv could have outsmarted Sanjay. Perhaps India needs to throw both of them out and start afresh.

  11. The writer believes that Rahul Gandhi is competent. Unfortunately, he is just entitled. No matter how he campaigns the impact will be low. The Indian populations has grown tired of the Family. The fact that he had to run from a Muslim majority location in Wayanad speaks for itself. Congress party should either disband or change its leadership. They are not the party that was part of the Freedom Struggle. The Indian intelligentsia makes this mistake driven by their enamored view of the Congress party. The general population seems to have become aware of this. The English media seems to long for the Congress party to claim its non existing Glory.

    The media associating Congress Party with Freedom struggle is a disservice to the nation and the people. It gets them votes they do not deserve.

  12. Can you please directly take up the job of training the congi ok leaders instead of writing here?

  13. Very true. The party is letting down the party and the Gandhi’s who are the ones actively doing anything what an opposition party ought to do. The party members are not even rising to the call for running the party at the invitation of Rahul when he resigned from party President and asked a non Gandhi to step in. Instead of taking on this fight and challenge one SCINDIA has quit to join the enemy he derided for decades and another, PILOT is possibly waiting to do the same. Instead of fighting for nomination, why not fight and get elected. Work towards such ideals instead of only blaming the Gandhis only.

  14. Surely many things can be done but they won’t be done, either by the party or by it’s president for life. Just as the author can write on many useful topics but will instead never stop banging his head against a brick wall.

  15. What I feel personally is when ever Rahul attacks PM , he seems to be a cheap attitude person.He should talk in gentle way with manners with using thoughtful pronunciation.Rahul should listen at Priyanka,whenever she speaks it seems as if has clear ideas.

  16. Bogus article. As usual, this guy lives and breathes social media and all his analysis is based on that.

  17. This man along with many other Print journos including boss Shekhar take so much pains to advise and strategise for congress but why doesnt any of this campaign click. In fact the pendulum is so heavy in terms of media support foe the congress amd yet the people of this country believe in what Modi says and not what Rahul says. Why ? A foregone conclusion is that the media, like the congres has no credibility. Today there are just a few honest people who practice journalism while rest are giving their own opinions on how bad Modi is and how great Rahul is. And nothing in the world comes for free. So wonder how much congress spends on media management. Contrast this with Modi who has media breathing down his neck and at times lying about his government. Yet Modi continues to top popularity charts ? The main reason is perhaps the people unshakable faith in the honesty and integrity of the PM. When they see that his mother still stays in government quarters with her son and Modi’s younger brother, when they see that Modi’s family has not been touched by his stature and they continue to love the same ordinary life they are convinced that the country is in honest mans hand. Their hard earned money which they pay in form of tax to the govt will not go in the PMs pocket or some PMs personal trust like RGF trust of the Gandhi’s where MMS granted Rs 100 crore from India’s annual budget. Second inportant factor is for Modi the nation comes first while for the Gandhi family the money comes first, their own personal wealth accumulation comes first. Rahul goes and stand with bharat tere tukde gang, signs MOU with Chinese, the details of which are hidden from the people of this country. Why should the people of this country ever trust this family ? The maturity of those weiting such articles is evident here. They never bother to look deeper into what makes Modi a favourite with the Indians and why is it that Rahul is seen to be a dishonest, lazy and talent less person.

  18. Pappu is and will be a Failure again and Dynasty rules in Congress.So stop your and our time to support your paymaster.GO BJP.

  19. Note to the author: please stop equating Mr. Modi with Rahul Gandhi in your articles To say that this is like comparing chalk & cheese will be insulting to the chalk.

  20. The issues you address in “Distribution is king” are so blindingly obvious…. no wonder that 3 days ago Arnab Goswami asked on RepublicTv “Which Dumbo wrote RG’s video scripts”.
    It’s possible that RG’s script was written by a South Delhi mutt whose vocabulary consists of “you know” & “like”.

  21. The common woman/man asks herself/himself : Do I want Pappu as my leader? He is a China man, his mother is a corrupt foreigner and they have looted the country. Times are tough, but I am willing to sacrifice. The current Govt makes me proud as an Indian, they are willing to stand and fight; my Prime Minister inspires me……… done, I know who I am voting for!

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