Post- Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) and the contest between Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and Congress MP, Mr Rahul Gandhi during a debate on the Presidential address- which left much to be desired in terms of quality- some rethinking is required on Gandhi versus ruling BJP’s political equation. The semantics are difficult to change quickly but perception has changed quicker than expected.
Political pundits and analysts still insist that Mr Gandhi in the fore-front of Congress politics continues to be an asset for the saffron party more so for Mr Modi when he vies for a third consecutive term in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
But the drastic manner in which Mr Gandhi’s image has got transformed after 4000-kilometre Kanyakumari to Kashmir walkathon, and his frontal attack targeting PM and questioning his “friendly” relations with the Adani group, during the debate, has impacted the public mind differently. It should force a rethink even on political pundits' minds.
Did Mr Gandhi choose to target Mr Modi on BJP’s bidding? The question sounds absurd but has relevance in terms of changing political context in the run up to the next general elections. Did Mr Gandhi take this decision on his will?
It is obvious that it was the Congress strategy as the party chief Mr Malikarjun Kharge confronted Mr Modi on the same line later in Rajya Sabha. The question to be asked now is who wants a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi line-up or contest in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
Yes, during the last two outings in 2014 and 2019 this contest was virtually created by the BJP strategists. The optimal use of a strong section of the media and the social media helped these strategists to sell a strong Modi versus a weak and meek Gandhi model to the people. It worked wonders for a variety of reasons the prime being Mr Gandhi’s silence and lack of strategy on part of the Congress to counter the BJP propaganda.
The BJY backed by a strong communication strategy of the Congress has brought a strong contextual change. And what happened in Parliament during debate on Presidential address has firmed up the view that 2024, leaving aside the issue of opposition unity for the time being, could be different from Congress perspective.
Mr Gandhi’s discourse all-through his ‘padyatra’ and his address in Lok Sabha- both pivoted on Mr Modi- makes the picture clear that it is no more the BJP that wants to create a Modi versus Rahul line-up for the elections. The latter seems to be keener this time to do so armed with the Modi-Adani relationship story. To whose advantage will it work, it is too early to arrive at a conclusion. Mr Modi, entered the Presidential debate arena with clear advantage of being an excellent communicator, and of course, the status of a strong Prime Minister which has its own benefits.
On the contrary Mr Gandhi was comparatively an underdog but still chose to be frontally against Mr Modi. He seems to have realised that he has no option left but to go all guns blazing not only to counter the BJP’s personalised aggression but also to drive home his point.
Nevertheless, the round went to the Congress leader. Mr Gandhi’s observation after Prime Minister’s reply that he (PM) was “shell-shocked”, as he did not reply to any of his “simple” questions, and the fact that Mr Modi preferred to gloss-over the Adani factor, and instead countered by reiterating the UPA-era scandals, led one to this conclusion.
Scoring political brownie points is not the sole-purpose of a Parliamentary debate though this is central, how much one wishes it away, to the competitive politics which has acquired some ugly nuances lately. There is always a golden opportunity to raise the level of debate when two senior leaders from across the political spectrum are the contenders. Unfortunately, this opportunity was lost by both the sides and the nation of a chance to witness elevation of parliamentary democracy to the next level.
A Prime Minister always has the advantage to use all his or her skills, oratory or otherwise, to disarm and dispel the opposition criticism, however, scathing it is.
And, more so, for someone like Mr Modi with greater communication skills it would have been much easier without being visibly irritated which conveyed a wrong message.
At least, he could have drawn a leaf from either his predecessor Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee or his mentor Mr L K Advani’s book on how to excel without losing cool even in the face of virulent criticism. But the fact remains that he has a different style of his own which has accrued him political dividends in the past.
Such occasions are also a testing time for old, tried and tested parliamentary practices and for those entrusted with the job of ensuring the sanctity of the system. It is a sensitive subject which needs to be handled with care. The Government is demanding and the opposition always wants more space, and in between the presiding officers have a daunting role to perform and be judged by the people.
By his standards Mr Gandhi was courageous as his stridency against the BJP-RSS and this time around singling out the Prime Minister, has attracted the people’s imagination and bagged him the much-needed changed media-focus in some measure. In turn the momentum created by the BJY coupled with his Parliament “show” has enthused the party rank and file if not the old-guard.
Outside of the Parliament hereafter it will be a difficult act for Mr Gandhi to pursue a Modi versus Rahul act with the current state of the Congress’s organisation. If Mr Gandhi has made himself battle-ready, after initial reluctance and inhibitions, it is not going to suffice without a battle-ready organisation which is mired in factionalism right from AICC down to states and Union Territories-Maharashtra being the latest addition to this list.
The momentum created by Mr Gandhi’s solo acts has to be maintained if he and the Congress were to counter Mr Modi’s challenge. For this to happen Mr Kharge has a daunting task to galvanise the organisational network to at least counter the BJP’s advantage of a well-oiled party-machinery led by a dynamic and quick decision-making leader such as Mr Modi.
Levels must not go down and guard must not be lowered in this battle for political supremacy.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.