Sonia Gandhi is set to appear at the Enforcement Directorate office on Thursday in the National Herald case. This comes after several hours of questioning of Rahul Gandhi last month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP have pretty much finished the Congress party’s political clout since 2014 in their quest for ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Many now are asking why keep flogging a near-dead horse?
A physically frail Sonia Gandhi showing up at the ED office is bound to evoke some public sympathy in a few quarters (more than Rahul’s appearance). Does the BJP want to rekindle this sentiment just a wee bit?
It is a short-term tactical move at a time when regional leaders are rising. Let’s call it The Rise of the Rest. Modi’s BJP would much rather have the Congress as the main opponent in states like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh than the regional leaders who are more politically nimble and street-smart.
Attacking Sonia Gandhi, again
But it wasn’t long ago that Modi would not even utter Sonia Gandhi’s name or directly refer to her. Rahul Gandhi was shehzada. At a public rally in 2018 Rajasthan, Modi was widely claimed to have indirectly referred to Sonia Gandhi as “Congress ki vidhwa” (Congress’ widow) while talking about the widow pension scheme. It was, what we call, a veiled jibe. While Modi received a lot of flak, Sonia Gandhi ended up with public sympathy given her husband Rajiv was assassinated.
Sonia Gandhi has been sick for the past decade. News of her being diagnosed with cervical cancer, for which she underwent surgery in the US, came in 2011. Since then, Sonia’s stoic silence has been an indicator of her deteriorating health, which has also led to a lull in the Congress’ electoral growth. In fact, the BJP’s barbs aimed at Sonia — of being an Italian and not deserving of leadership in India — have long been laid down, since 2014. She was simply too sick for anyone to seem morally correct about attacking her. The attacks were instead directed to either the dead Nehru-Gandhi family or Robert Vadra or just Rahul Gandhi.
But things have changed in a matter of a month. Suddenly, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra is accusing Sonia Gandhi of trying to implicate Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots. And the ED insisted on calling Sonia Gandhi for questioning in the National Herald case after deferring the summons due to her contracting Covid. Rahul Gandhi was duly questioned for around 10 hours on two occasions.
No, the BJP is not going for the kill. As the old proverb by Sun Tzu says: “And so, in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.”
BJP unrest vs the Rise of the Rest
The rise of Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee and now K. Chandrashekar Rao cannot be taken lightly. In fact, KCR’s snub to Modi during the latter’s visit to Telangana in February and May this year should be seen very closely. Modi has too many contenders vying for the space that the Congress has put up for grabs owing to its weak leadership. And so, better a weakened devil you know than a new one. And here, Modi has one too many.
At this point, Modi’s political advisers might be regretting going after the Congress party with such ferocity. The public opinion against the Gandhis was so strong that having them as their principal opponent would have worked like magic every election. But overdoing the insignificance of the Congress and the Gandhis has just left the BJP with regionally strong competitors. These are leaders who have risen from the ground and the usual stick of corruption and dynasty that worked against the Congress may not fetch much credibility to the BJP’s claims here.
So, the BJP is back to using its trump card — the Congress — in order to deny the significance of regional players. It played this game in Punjab by accusing the Congress and then-CM Charanjit Singh Channi of trying to “physically harm” Modi during his much publicised alleged security breach. The BJP tried to downplay Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), ignoring the huge strides they had made. The results are for all to see. AAP won Punjab with a thumping majority. And because the BJP didn’t have much to say against them, they stuck to lame jokes about the AAP fielding an ‘alcoholic’ for CM’s post. The Congress, on the other hand, would be described by Amit Shah as being on the “path of insanity” due to “repeated rejections by the people”.
The BJP seems to have made a blunder by opening up national politics for regional leaders. The Congress’ organic decay has fastened the process. If a Gujarat CM can be PM, the day is not too far when another CM occupies that coveted chair.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)