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Rahul Gandhi can’t imitate Modi to defeat Modi

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Rahul Gandhi’s actions and antics are good for headlines, but he needs to show some originality.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi is on a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar. Lord Shiva had come to his rescue this April when his plane had plunged 8,000 feet on the way to Karnataka. And so this journey to Mount Kailash, Shiva’s abode in mythology, to seek his blessings and drink the sin-cleansing water of Mansarovar lake.

You will get both “paap aur shraap” (sin and curse) if you come between Bhole Shankar and Rahul who is “immersed in his devotion”, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala cautioned the BJP leaders Friday.

In the coming days, we should see many pictures of Rahul doing a parikrama of Mount Kailash – possibly with a big teeka on his forehead, if not draped in gerua vastra or saffron robes. It will mark the culmination of what started with the Gujarat assembly election last year: the image makeover of Rahul as a janeu-dhari devout Hindu.

What Rahul didn’t say in London

Over the past decade since his induction as the Congress general secretary, he has evolved from a starry-eyed idealist with contempt against the prevailing “system” into a hug-and-wink politician who is as excited giving a call, along with comrade Sitaram Yechury, to the workers of India to unite as he is about visiting temples.

Also read: The cardinal rules of politics Rahul Gandhi needs to learn from young Tejashwi Yadav

With a plain face, he recently attributed the 2014 Lok Sabha election loss to the ‘Gen-Next vs Old Guard’ tussle, giving his London audience no inkling about his own role. Rahul was as much, if not more, responsible for the UPA’s ouster as Narendra Modi.

As the party’s heir-apparent then, Rahul went about publicly undermining the credibility of PM Manmohan Singh and his government with gusto, trashing an ordinance cleared by the union cabinet as “complete nonsense”.

He unleashed the environment & forest minister, Jairam Ramesh, on industrialists, and silently watched senior leaders and ministers make ‘Rahul-for-PM’ clamour. Singh offered to step down several times during his second stint but Sonia Gandhi dissuaded him, say those privy to the happenings.

Rahul showcased his decision to hold internal elections in the Youth Congress and the NSUI as a testimony to his commitment to “democratise” the party. But when it came to the election of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s apex decision-making body, he conveniently looked the other way as a resolution was passed to authorise him to nominate CWC members.

Not a reluctant politician

On Thursday, as Rahul began his presser, he asked journalists half in jest and half in sarcasm: “So are you writing freely or under pressure? There is general mood in the country that people hesitate to speak… you have our full support.” It was meant to be a jibe at Modi government which, the opposition party alleges, is trying to intimidate and throttle the media.

However, coming from him, those words sounded a bit rich. In 2008, when some TV channel journalists had gatecrashed an NSUI workshop and picked up some copies of presentations, a livid Rahul had accused them of being “thieves” and called the police to register a case.

Also read: It is time Rahul Gandhi and Congress stop being afraid of the 1984 question

Rahul has obviously evolved. He is not a reluctant politician anymore; he revels in politics, although his detractors have questions about his calibre, tenacity and perseverance. He is ready to match Modi word-to-word, mud-to-mud. Surveys indicate his growing acceptability, although he remains far behind Modi in terms of popularity ratings.

Congress’ strategy for 2019  

There are three questions that need to be looked at for any reasonable estimation of the Congress’ prospects in 2019: Is the Modi regime more corrupt than the Congress-led UPA? Is Rahul a bigger Hindu than Modi? And, has Modi failed people more than the Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul trio did?

Since the NDA government assumed power in 2014, investigative agencies have gone after opposition leaders for their alleged acts of omissions and commissions. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections could be the first in Independent India when the ruling party would seek a renewed mandate citing corruption charges against opposition parties.

But, the persistent campaign against the Rafale fighter jets may drown all the noise about the UPA scams. And the credit for this must be given to the NDA government’s dogged and inexplicable refusal to make the price of the aircraft public.

What has emboldened the opposition party is the BJP’s diffidence in responding to allegations regarding BJP president Amit Shah. Describing demonetisation as a scam, Rahul claimed that scrapped currency worth Rs 700 crore was exchanged in a Gujarat cooperative bank of which Shah is a director. The BJP remained silent. Rahul has also been publicly targeting Shah for controversial financial dealings of his son Jay, but the BJP, after some initial reactions, has chosen to ignore it.

The Congress may achieve some degree of success in creating doubts in people’s minds, but would that be enough for them to decide to vote out Modi government? It’s anybody’s guess, especially when the anti-Modi camp would comprise leaders such as Rahul, Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Ajit Singh, and Mamata Banerjee.

As for the second question about Rahul outdoing Modi’s Hindu credentials, it’s a convoluted strategy of a party that had once called Modi a “merchant of death” in the context of the post-Godhra riots. As All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MP Asaduddin Owaisi told ThePrint recently, “You can’t become the BJP to defeat the BJP”. Those who have voted for Modi as “Hindus” are unlikely to switch their loyalty to Rahul, while his temple visits may not change the voting behaviour of others. In its desperate quest for “Hindu” votes, the Congress instead might be losing the trust of those who have more mundane things in mind when they cast their franchise.

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi played both ways and lost, now Rahul is trying his hand at soft Hindutva

On the third question about the delivery in governance, Modi government is on the back foot, notwithstanding the impressive GDP growth in the first quarter of the year. People may not be totally disillusioned with Modi yet but they are asking questions on the rationale behind demonetisation, lack of jobs, growing interest rate, and increase in prices of petroleum products – issues that matter in their day-to-day life.

Spin doctors of the government may be harping on the strong fundamentals of the economy and the policy paralysis during the UPA regime, but it may not be enough to convince people who voted for Modi expecting the moon. The silver lining for the BJP, however, is that Rahul, with no administrative experience, can’t be showcased as a role model either. Nor can other contenders such as Mamata or Mayawati fit into that role.

Rahul’s words, actions and antics have been good for headlines, but he needs to show some originality, instead of using tricks from Modi’s playbook to defeat Modi.

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  1. The fact that Rahul Gandhi has started enticing Hindu voters by visiting Shiv bhagat and also visiting temples etc proves that BJP is correct in following hard hindituv. To go a step further in this direction Rahul needs to openly support construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya. This will convince Hindu voters that congress will not appease one community at the cost of Hindus henceforth. Otherwise Hindus are sure that all Rahul is doing to get votes only whereas BJP strongly believes in Hinduism. As a result of this PM Modi is going to get majority in 2019.

  2. It would help the party if Ms Priyanka Gandhi is drafted for almost full time work, at least till the general election. Not in a visible role that undercuts or undermines her brother’s authority as Congress President, but simply to add to the working hours that become available at this crucial time. Talking to actual or potential allies, seat sharing, ticket distribution, all the nitty gritty to prepare for two sets of make or break elections. She enjoys trust in a manner that even the closest confidantes cannot hope to, and she carries the full authority of the family. To thank the Lord for the miraculous escape on the flight, a day’s trip to Tirupati would have sufficed.

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