Rahul Gandhi has turned out to be more conventional and much less imaginative than his mother Sonia Gandhi in his politics.
In the run up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi would tell his party workers that “badlaav ki aandhi” (storm of change) was blowing but they should not hold the cycle tube aloft and expect it to be filled with air. They had to pump it, he would say, exhorting them to reach out to the people.
Contrast it with the response of a top Congress functionary during an informal media interaction Friday. “Jab hawa badalti hai to kuchh kaam nahin aata (when the wind changes its direction, nothing works). What happened to the India Shining campaign in 2004?” he said, dismissive of the BJP’s preparations on the ground.
The contrast defines the approach of the two parties as they brace themselves up for the next general elections: the ruling party still riding on Modi’s popularity but back to the grind, and the opposition party caught in a time warp. Except the replacement of the old clique with a new one, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has turned out to be more conventional and much less imaginative than his mother and predecessor, Sonia Gandhi, in his politics.
He is trying to emulate her 2004 strategy to defeat the BJP in 2019. If she managed to overcome Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s popularity and charismatic appeal by cobbling up alliances with regional parties, he would do the same 15 years later. If she picked up Jairam Ramesh to oversee the party’s poll preparations in the war room, so would he. If her narrative was centred around socio-economic deprivations in rural India, so would his. Copying the mother’s political tactics is not necessarily a bad strategy, but the only problem is Modi is not Vajpayee.
“Congress ka hukka to kab ka bujh gaya, par hum hain ki gurguraye ja rahe hain (the tobacco pipe that the Congress is got extinguished long back, but here I am, still trying to blow it),” says a character in Kashi Nath Singh’s brilliant political satire, Kashi ka Assi. Many veteran Congressmen are quoting it today. They are not much impressed by Rahul’s theatrics in Parliament or his shoot-and-scoot tactic to target the government.
Modi government may have lost much of its sheen and a section of people, especially unemployed youngsters and small traders and entrepreneurs, may be growing impatient, but there are no alarm bells ringing for the BJP. The Congressmen, as Modi mentioned to his party men, are just holding the cycle tube aloft.
Now that Rahul is humming Kishore Kumar’s “Pyaar baante chalo” to friends and foes alike, he may like to put aside his views about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and study how it works on the ground to help the BJP – that is if he does not see the tireless efforts of Modi and his ministerial and party colleagues making any impression on the people.
In poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, the RSS observed Swami Vivekananda Day from 1-5 January by organising ‘run for awakening Bharat’, elocution and painting competitions, and speeches by ‘eminent personalities’ in 112 colleges and educational institutions. In Vidisha, a jagran was organised in which over 37,000 people reportedly participated. The RSS organised a ‘Rashtrashakti Sammelan’ in Chhindwara on 23 January in which around 14,000 people from 90 villages reportedly took a resolve to protect the “panch matas” (five mothers) – one’s own mother, the Narmada, Mother Earth, Gau Mata and Bharat Mata.
If Rahul goes to the RSS website, he will find details of scores of such programmes being organised in different parts of the country on any given day. He may have questions about the true objective of such exercises, but he can’t deny their importance in terms of public outreach.
Look at the activities of the Congress Seva Dal. Its headquarters in New Delhi is busy compiling a list of its office-bearers and members across the country; it didn’t have one. The Youth Congress and the NSUI hold token demonstrations, preferably in New Delhi, for the Congress president to notice and that’s about all there is to say about their activities. And, has anyone heard of what so many other AICC cells and departments – for farmers, fishermen, intellectuals, OBCs, and Dalits, to name just a few – are doing
The Congress is naturally critical of Modi for always being in poll mode and doing everything in governance to earn political capital. Opposition leaders curse the ruling party for what it does, the latest being the NRC, to polarise people and communities to capture power.
Rahul and his party leaders have been countering the BJP-RSS designs aggressively and vehemently by posting tweets and holding press conferences – and by visiting temples. And if there is still anything left to be done to dislodge the NDA government in 2019, the Congress president has outsourced it to Mayawatis, Akhilesh Yadavs and Mamata Banerjees.