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  Opinion   Columnists  22 May 2024  Sunil Gatade | Congress as BJP bugbear: A sign of changing times?

Sunil Gatade | Congress as BJP bugbear: A sign of changing times?

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
Published : May 22, 2024, 12:18 am IST
Updated : May 22, 2024, 12:18 am IST

PM Modi's campaign rhetoric takes an unexpected turn as the Congress emerges as a key focus in the 2024 elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Motihari, Bihar, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Motihari, Bihar, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (PTI Photo)

This kind of fate should not befall even your worst enemy. After an audacious campaign of a “Congress-mukt Bharat” for around a decade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now cautioning people from the rooftops to beware of a Congress comeback. This is happening at a time when the 2024 campaign is past mid-way through twists and turns.

Call it bizarre or a sign of the changing times, but the changed tune shows, rightly or wrongly, that the grand old party has become the “bugbear” for the star campaigner of the BJP, who is often projected as the greatest leader India has ever produced.

The refrain of “India will be doomed and Hindus will be doomed” is being seen as the leader fearing doom due to the rise of a new narrative taking the world’s largest party unawares. The problem is that Mr Modi and home minister Amit Shah believed they had hit a six when they coined the term “Ab ki baar, 400 paar”, and all that remained was just to collect the moolah at the electoral box office.

Mr Shah’s new spin that 400 seats are needed for the BJP to get back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has also not worked, and has instead brought the focus on the Chinese incursions.

“What if you don’t get that many seats, won’t you take back PoK? We want you to take it back. But, first, you should take back those 4,000 km that China has taken away” -- goes the refrain in the Opposition. 

The problem is that the BJP hasn’t just lost the narrative but also has not been able to respond to the combined Opposition.

Besides, the INDIA bloc’s loose structure made Mr Modi and his party believe the Opposition leaders are buffoons who have been propped up just to keep the BJP and its leader perpetually in power. The incessant campaign to lampoon Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu” was lapped up by the Prime Minister himself so much so that he started believing his idea.

What was worse was that the PM also fell prey to the Congress campaign, contesting the lowest number of Lok Sabha seats since Independence. The Congress tried to tell its INDIA bloc allies that since it is contesting fewer seats, there is no question of the party playing “big brother” if the Opposition succeeds in its game.

Worse, the Congress making veteran Mallikarjun Kharge party chief was looked down as just another attempt by the grand old party to do away with the dynasty tag. Given Mr Kharge’s background, it was hard and imprudent to attack him. The change of guard gave much elbow room to the Congress to work on its narrativem but also to make it more credible. Mr Kharge’s presidency appeared soothing to the allies too. He was a loyalist as well as a veteran at the same time.

Rahul Gandhi’s Kashmir to Kanyakumari march sowed the seeds of change. The longest walk in the world’s largest democracy for issues of justice and fair play made a world of difference. The PM’s neglect of the endeavour and once cursorily dubbing it as an attempt to come to power showed that he believed in the Modi myth.

With a sizable section of the media eating out of the PM’s hands, there were attempts to black out the Bharat Jodo Yatra so much that it led to several YouTube channels/programmes springing up to project an angle different from the government propaganda and that of the ruling party.

The BJP’s spectacular wins in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh brought a sense of complacency, given that they were fought without projecting any local leader as the CM candidate.

The attempt to cut local leaders to size and project Mr Modi as the only leader sent alarm bells to everyone in the party. It meant that even Yogi Adityanath, Hindutva’s poster boy, was not safe. “Ek Modi sab pe bhari” was seen in a different context within the BJP, though everyone stayed silent. In their heart of hearts, everyone knew that “apna bhi number aaayega”.

Dramatic political developments in Maharashtra in the past three years since the pulling down of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray was a blessing in disguise for the Opposition. The Modi-Shah duo not only overnight succeeded in removing the MVA’s anti-incumbency but turned Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar into leading lights of the Opposition out to avenge treachery and betrayal.

The signal was that with the ED as the “election department” of the BJP, the Modi-Shah duo could bulldoze anything in a jiffy. It was reminiscent of the Andhra Pradesh blunder under Indira Gandhi when N.T. Rama Rao was removed as the CM.

The brutal Modi-Shah game in Maharashtra helped the formation of the Opposition’s INDIA alliance as panic spread among the BJP’s detractors that no one was safe and, therefore, it was imperative to make common cause. The grouping gave ample space for the partners to expand, and to rely on the others in times of difficulty. Arvind Kejriwal, once apathetic to the cause of Opposition unity, striking an alliance with the Congress was a big advertisement of the INDIA bloc’s viability. The message was that if you failed to remain together, you would be dealt with separately and you would remain powerless. It could be safely said that Mr Modi has helped the INDIA grouping to gain some might.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s husband has shown that his wife is the worst cook in matters economic. There are no takers to the FM’s grand claims of the third largest economy.

The BJP falling prey to “Paltu Ram” politics in Patna also helped the Opposition to turn more combative at a time when Bihar CM Nitish Kumar started suddenly losing steam for a variety of reasons.

It looks like politics is turning full circle. The PM’s bizarre charge that Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani are “giving tempo loads of black money to the Congress and Rahul Gandhi” is an indirect admission that the world’s largest party is being given a run for its money.

2024 is an election without magic but has the potential to perform a miracle. While Rahul Gandhi claims that the BJP will end up between 140-160 seats, Mr Modi believes the Congress could be around 50. June 4 will reveal who has hit the bull’s eye. Getting a third term is not an easy task in the 21st century, where aspirations and expectations are growing by the day. Abusing Jawaharlal Nehru is easy and child’s play.

Tags: prime minister narendra modi, 2024 lok sabha elections, congress leader rahul gandhi