New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set on framing Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s 2019 remarks about the surname “Modi” — which led to his conviction in a defamation case and subsequent disqualification from Parliament Friday — as an example of the Congress being “anti-OBC (Other Backward Classes)”. The BJP has begun a drive to consolidate its own OBC votebank using this narrative.
The party has planned a nationwide campaign, calling Gandhi’s statement an insult to the OBC community, and also countering the Congress agitation protesting the leader’s disqualification.
Many BJP leaders that ThePrint spoke to said that the party is set to gain as Rahul Gandhi vs Modi has better polarising potential than any other issue. They pointed out that in 2019 (Lok Sabha elections), the Chowkidar Chor Hai campaign backfired on the Congress. Likewise, they agreed, Gandhi’s disqualification will work in the BJP’s favour. The party, which faces anti-incumbency in Karnataka, can use this issue against the Congress in the coming state assembly elections, they said.
While senior BJP leaders have said the party did not have a hand in Gandhi’s disqualification, party sources told ThePrint that a meeting led by the prime minister Thursday evening decided on the course of action.
Some senior BJP leaders also told ThePrint that the Congress leader needed to be “taught a lesson”.
Also read:‘Won’t apologise as I’m Gandhi, not Savarkar,’ says Rahul in 1st press conference after disqualification from LS
Reaching out to OBCs
Alleging that Gandhi had compared the OBC community (to which PM Modi belongs) to thieves, BJP national president J.P. Nadda attacked the Congress leader Friday, hours before his disqualification.
He tweeted, “Rahul Gandhi calls the entire OBC community thieves. He gets a flak in the Courts but he refuses to apologise thus showing how deep rooted his hatred for OBCs is…”
Now, Mr. @RahulGandhi calls the entire OBC community thieves. He gets a flak in the Courts but he refuses to apologise thus showing how deep rooted his hatred for OBCs is. The people of India did not forgive him in 2019…in 2024 the punishment will be more severe.
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) March 24, 2023
While party leaders insist Gandhi’s disqualification was a long time coming, alleging that he is a habitual offender, the development, they say, will benefit the party.
The Teli community has planned a nationwide protest against Gandhi, said MP and BJP leader Ramdas Tadas.
The Maharashtra unit of the party held protests in all six Lok Sabha constituencies of the state Saturday, seeking his apology for insulting the prime minister and the OBC community.
Senior party leaders and ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Bhupendra Yadav have also spoken out against Gandhi.
At a press conference Friday, Yadav attacked the Congress for raising questions on the court verdict. He asked, “ Are the Congress and Rahul Gandhi above the law? Is it a national leader’s job to abuse and insult a surname? Everybody should respect the law. I believe the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are guilty of disrespecting the OBCs.”
Who gets to gain
Meanwhile, a central BJP leader said to ThePrint, “Rahul Gandhi is no Indira Gandhi who turned the tables even after a huge blunder like the Emergency. When she was arrested on corruption charges, she got a lot of sympathy…and won the next elections.”
“Even Sonia Gandhi got a lot of sympathy when she was attacked over her ‘foreign origin’. But the party is convinced that in a Rahul-Modi battle, the latter will always win,” he said.
A former Union Cabinet minister said to ThePrint that the Congress may also benefit from Gandhi’s expulsion if it played its cards right. “If Rahul Gandhi plays the sympathy card or announces another yatra like his Bharat Jodo Yatra, he may be able to revive his cadre,” he said.
“The Congress does have an opportunity here but the PM and Amit Shah must have thought about the ramifications of the disqualification move,” he said.
BJP hits back
Senior party leaders have maintained that the party has nothing to do with Gandhi’s disqualification, as alleged by the Congress.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told reporters in Parliament Friday, “There is no role of the BJP in this decision as the court has found him guilty and the Speaker acted on that court decision. Rahul Gandhi was continuously defying the system, the law. He did not apologise before the court…it is his arrogance which led to the court decision and his disqualification.”
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said to ThePrint, “The judgment was clear. The Supreme Court had cautioned him (Gandhi) earlier as well but he thought he was above the law. It was a court judgment on his conduct… His disqualification is a natural fallout of the court verdict. The law of the land is the same for everyone.”
However, sources in the BJP told ThePrint that the PM held a meeting with senior ministers Thursday evening where it was felt that a message needed to be sent out that the law was the same for all – be it Gandhi or Abdullah Azam Khan, the UP legislator who was disqualified following his conviction in an old case.
A senior party leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, “It was a well calculated move. All Cabinet ministers were firm on not giving Gandhi another chance. He has been a habitual offender.”
Accusing Gandhi of making “allegations without any substance”, he said, “Who stopped him from apologising before the court? The case was going on for four years, the verdict did not come in a day…”
Another Union minister said to ThePrint, “It was necessary to teach Gandhi a lesson as he was recklessly disrespecting institutions, making allegations against the prime minister without any substance…it was felt (in the party) that since the Speaker was acting on the court verdict, it will also shield the party (from backlash)… but this was needed.”
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
Also read:‘One doesn’t grow with small mindset’ — Prashant Kishor invokes Vajpayee to attack BJP on Rahul disqualification