Rahul Gandhi’s makeover and Congress fortunes

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A little Leftwards drive may well be taking Rahul Gandhi and Congress onto a different course from what was charted out by Manmohan Singh and is being followed even after his exit. Yet, this has given Rahul the punch that he could not summon before by even more often than not rolling up sleeves and once tearing off an ordinance passed by his own party’s Government. Anger took the better of him. And media lampooned him. He may or may not have needed a break but a great deal of thought was really called for by him to make a beginning, if not a breakthrough.
This looked to be simply impossible when Rahul went on a nearly two-month-long leave. Throughout the first and better part of the last Budget session he was not to be seen. And it looked as if the BJP-led Government was being given a walkover of sorts by Congress, courtesy its already flippant main bet now opting for an ill-timed vanishing act.
Somehow, this has greatly changed since last month. He came back in mid-April and the enigma that he carried for so long started lifting – the indication of this being the anti-corporate, Left of the Centre, pro-farmer, anti-builder and pro-dweller, or middleclass flat buyer slant to his rhetoric.
In his new avatar Rahul Gandhi has been seen only for a month against Narendra Modi who has now completed a year in office. This has a time difference of 12 times; and yet the Government has started looking for cover in order to save its leader. To escape Rahul’s new fusillade the NDA brought two of its Ministers, Smriti Irani and Harsimrat Kaur, as interceptors. Rahul accused Modi Government of vendetta for scrapping the food park plan in Amethi, the parliamentary constituency of the Congress vice-president when the two ministers hastened serve as flanks to the Prime Minister.
Though sharp and pointed have been Rahul’s attack against nearly a year old Government, the question that arises is how could he invent the new thrust, or why didn’t he try this before? Or, was it being kept in reserve?
The general belief, nay supposition, is that whether in defeat or triumph the Congress knows how to strike a balance between the left and right. This may be true but in the wake of last year’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Narendra Modi Congressmen have only been hoping their leader to be as lucky as the late Indira Gandhi was after her defeat in 1977. The Janata experiment took three years to collapse. This time a comeback by the Congress through somewhat of a repeat of the 1977-1980 Janata Party like squabbling was generally wished by the Congressmen despite a time gap of nearly four decades between the two situations and their nature being quite different. Moreover, unlike Indira Gandhi of those times, Rahul largely turned out to be a novice in politics and he was hardly equipped to regain the lost ground like his grandmother.
Yet, Indira Gandhi too had taken her time to come to terms with and meet the challenge to her leadership in its initial days. One has to go further back by a decade from 1977 to understand the great transformation she underwent to face the formidable rightwing attack to her leadership. Her opponents had formed a formidable syndicate to keep her in tracks. She was often called Goongi Gudia, or a dumb doll as she was often indecisive, indifferent and mute amid mounting challenges that rose around her with alarming punctuality. She not only characterised this as a rightwing attack but took on Indira Hatao campaign of her rivals with a slogan like Garibi Hatao to reach out to the electorate.
In the process of this great fight against the right Left became her natural ally. As diverse rivals as Swatantra Party, Jana Sangh and Congress (O), a splinter group of her own party, had joined hands to forge a larger Opposition that jointly took against her in polls after polls since 1967. This was confined not only through the battles for State Assemblies spread over from 1967 to 1971 but also during the election of VV Giri as President. He won with the support of Indira Gandhi and the Left, defeating the official Congress candidate Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who was backed by veterans like Morarji Desai, GL Nanda, SK Patil and their rightwing cohorts from both inside and outside the Congress.
Like the Goongi Gudia of yesteryears, Rahul too has been called by different sobriquets – some of them being Shahzada, Yuvraj, Baba and Pappu. Again those from the far to not so staunch right, whether with or without communal tinge, have been taking potshots at him as has been the case with Indira during her initial tryst with power.
If until a month back rivals berated Rahul, some of his party’s old and not so old hats too had reservations about him. The challenge before him has been thrown from different quarters but, nevertheless, this converged to burden his party with the socialist tilt that now has not only gone out of fashion but is also blamed for economic stagnation right from Nehru’s times. Somehow, Rahul did not fail to recognize the nature, source and motive behind such a challenge coming from myriad sides. A few days after coming back from his sabbatical, the Congress scion spoke on April 19 at a farmers’ rally held in Delhi mainly against this. He pointed out that it was agriculture that helped build industry and not vice versa. He referred to green revolution that was conceptualised wayback in Lal Bahdur Shastri’s time but was actualised during Indira Gandhi’s first stint in power that began in 1966 and continued until 1977.
And ever since the challenge has turned out to be from Indira Hatao to stemming out Congress rule for ever, if one remembers Modi’s anti-Congress blitz through the run up to the last Lok Sabha elections. This has not just been a boastful warcry but it also brought rich dividends to the BJP. Congress mainly and rest of the Opposition generally was virtually decimated. It was further accentuated when Congress drew a blank in Delhi Assembly elections.
Significantly, Rahul Gandhi’s sabbatical began within days of Aam Aadmi Party’s muffler man’s ascent to absolute power in Delhi. The fact that Arvind Kejriwal left only three seats for BJP was no great consolation for the total rout suffered by Congress.
A wholesale defeat brought by rivals called for a wholesome solution. And Rahul appears to have, indeed, taken the call. Whether this is despite or because of the sabbatical, he has in any case turned out to be more forthright, alert, discerning and ready with details about situations than what used to be the case with him before. No sooner than Kejriwal’s trademark muffler had gone amid change of season, Rahul took public attention to Modi’s costly suits.
Not only suit-boot ki sarkar or Government became the buzzword, stirring people’s fears about Modi but also Rahul’s antics in the past paled before the new surge of attack by him. The turn events took with time too are veering to favour Opposition ranks. The test for this is yet a few months away when Bihar goes to polls. The last year’s tearing of the ordinance by Rahul has somehow taken Lalu out of the battle for Bihar’s stewardship and ever since he has moved to sink differences with other secular parties putting Nitish in better stead. Yet, Jayalalitha is no Lalu. She is going to be back soon as Chief Minister in Chinnai; and this is going to happen with BJP in power at the Centre. The party that came riding the wave against corruption is somehow becoming a bystander as such a case against corruption is falling flat in an appeal before High Court.
The metamorphosis that Rahul, Congress and Opposition in general have undergone through now the year-long BJP rule is not only remarkable but has also kicked off discordant voices from within the BJP. The party’s Lok Sabha member from Ballia in UP Bharat Singh spoke against the party and Government leaderships in a parliamentary group’s meeting. Arun Shourie and Ram Jethmalani too have different takes vis-à-vis Modi’s efficacy and the issue of black money. But biggest of all is the reservations within Sangh’s ranks over land acquisition bill. RSS has sensed the mood and thus parleys are on at Nagpur with Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah. The provocation is indeed a Left of the Centre tide being forced by Rahul and other rivals.

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