Mr Gandhi did not force these errors on the government. Interestingly, it is the government that is caught in the web of unforced errors.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah’s “jumla” of a Congress-mukt Bharat seems to be turning into a dud. What the Modi-Shah duo meant was to defeat the Congress in every election everywhere. The BJP has had a good run so far on that score, but it may not continue, even if the BJP manages to scrape through the Karnataka Assembly election later this month. The BJP has peaked, and the Congress has bottomed out. There is not much space left for the BJP to spread its wings further. The Congress’ climb-back appears to have started. The Rahul Gandhi show, the “Jan Aakrosh” rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on Sunday was a clear and loud message to political rivals and opponents across the country that the Grand Old Party was not yielding its space.
The transition from Sonia Gandhi’s leadership style to that of her son is also evident. She had her own measured way of criticising the government. She did that in 2004 in the Lok Sabha before the election, attacking the failures of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. And as early as 2002, she made the pungent remark at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) that there was a “change in the wind” because the industry body had invited the Opposition leader to address it. That remark railed then home minister L.K. Advani, who said that the BJP would remain in power. Mr Gandhi’s aggression is frontal, in the manner of Narendra Modi, but a little more tempered than that of Mr Modi. He said that the Congress will fight the hateful ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), but it would not hate the RSS. Critics might dub it a “jumla”, but Mr Gandhi has indeed tweaked the rhetoric. The reluctant politician has now been transformed into a man leading from the front.
The fears that he may not be able to manage the transition in the organisation seem to have been laid to rest for the moment because he got all the party’s top brass on the dais at the rally, revealing that he will work with both younger and older leaders and that there is no generational divide. It looks like that Rahul Gandhi stands as a bridge between the young and the old in the party because he isn’t any more the young man that he was 14 years ago. He stands at the intersection of generations, and that should help him iron out the intra-organisational inter-generational differences.
He has also set in place a broad-based strategy against the Modi government, identifying the attacks on women and on dalits, the unhappy unemployed youth and an economy that seems to be going nowhere despite the seven per cent growth rate. These are indeed the major chinks in the Modi armour and he is targeting them with full force. Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the Modi government in 2018 echoes in many ways Mr Modi’s attack on the Manmohan Singh government in 2014.
Mr Gandhi did not force these errors on the government. Interestingly, it is the government that is caught in the web of unforced errors. Rahul Gandhi is naturally taking advantage of that.
It is not clear whether the Congress will manage to win in Karnataka this month, or in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year, and the national election next May. What is clear, however, is that the BJP will fight the Congress as the main rival in all these states and in the next Lok Sabha elections. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties may form their own coalition and they may be the kingmakers in 2019 as the Janata Dal (Secular) is poised to be in Karnataka now. But the Congress and the BJP remain the main national rivals. It is impossible to predict the outcome of the Modi-Rahul Gandhi duel, but it can be said with certainty that Mr Gandhi is not the political cipher that he was made out to be in 2014 and in the subsequent years. That ended with the Gujarat Assembly elections last December.
The only negative feature about the resuscitated Congress is that it needed Mr Gandhi to do it, and the baton of leadership had to be passed on from Mrs Sonia Gandhi to him, from mother to son. It remains an intriguing question as to why the 125-year-old party is not able to find a leader outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the party together. The Congress’ critics, and many of them are ideological enemies of the RSS-BJP, blame the family for the dynastic dynamic of the party. The criticism is wrong-headed and misplaced. The field was open for anyone to throw his or her hat into the ring after the electoral debacle of 2014, and it seems that young leaders like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia have shown themselves to be lacking in ambition and energy. There should have been a healthy contest for the top slot. It is not the fault of Mr Gandhi that he walks into the empty space. The Congress Party will have to work out this leadership conundrum. The only charge that the BJP can now hurl at the Congress is that of “dynasty”.
It may not stick because the people may opt for the Congress in their desire to replace the BJP, and it is a coincidence that Mr Gandhi is the leader of the party. In 2014, the people wanted to replace the Congress, and it was a coincidence that Mr Modi was the party’s prime ministerial candidate. It would remain a moot question of political theory about the importance of individual leaders. Good leaders without a party fail. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar is an eminent example. Neither Mr Modi nor Mr Gandhi are great leaders, but the fact that they lead viable parties makes them viable leaders.