Is There a Rahul Gandhi Factor? 3 Reasons Why the BJP Seems to Think So
NEW DELHI: The reason for the question in the headline comes from the seeming preoccupation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who is perhaps, the only leader being individually targeted by the ruling party both inside and outside Parliament. And clearly there is something about him that worries the BJP, even over and above the Congress as a party that seems to be more manageable than the vice president now leading it from the front.
PM Modi replying to a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the Presidents address did not name Rahul Gandhi but it was clear that the latter remained the target. "Some people grow older, but not wiser”, the Prime Minister said and went on to counter points made by Rahul Gandhi in his rather passionate speech earlier in which he directly joined issue with PM Modi, and challenged him on several counts.
The ruling party’s “obsession” as a Congress leader said, in Rahul Gandhi counters the derision with which it seeks to dismiss the Congress leader as the remark above. At the same time the focus has interestingly, shifted from the Congress party to directly Rahul Gandhi who has been himself adopting a combative policy viz a viz the Prime Minister and the government.
The soft approach adopted by the Congress party over the years,towards the BJP seems to have disappeared. At least for now, but given its past record this is certainly a dramatic change for a party that has not hesitated to play along with the BJP since the mid 1990’s onwards. And has allowed its own hesitation, and accommodation of the BJP ideology, to influence policy over these decades.
There seems to have been a marked shift in Congress policy since the first quarter of 2015. And the shift has come directly at the instance of Rahul Gandhi, according to Congress insiders, some of whom are worried about the developments and others visibly excited. From waffing along, and becoming an object of derision with his halting speeches and confused remarks, Rahul Gandhi returned from a long trip abroad last year with a new determination. The image makeover has made itself felt in a marked shift in Congress policy being effected, according to sources, by him and a small, cohesive team that handles his office and his politics as it were.
The Opposition MPs in Parliament have noticed the change. And commented upon it in off the record conversations with, “well let us see but Rahul seems to be getting his act together”. As a senior MP of a regional party said, “there is a decided change, he speaks with confidence, and knows what he is saying.” Sceptics too evaluated their earlier views after Gandhi’s recent speech in the Lok Sabha, that was laced with humour, taunted the treasury benches with a smile, and actually exuded new confidence and assurance that the Congress leaders themselves hailed as a “major change.”
The old timers are being gradually sidelined with the younger MPs like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia in the lead. Sources said that Rahul Gandhi’s decision to visit Jawaharlal Nehru University after Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest had run against the advice by the Congress old guard not to open himself to undue controversy. He rejected this to respond positively to a phone call from CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, according to informed sources, to visit the campus and address the students.
The Congress vice president, sources said, is in direct charge of strategy and is working on a complete make-over for the old party. The earlier drift to Sonia Gandhi by party leaders to intervene directly has stopped, as Rahul Gandhi is taking key decisions. For instance the appointment of Amarinder Singh as the chief campaigner for the Congress in Punjab was held up by the scion, and then cleared by him as well. Also the party noticed that despite the strong attack on him by the BJP and its affiliates, Rahul Gandhi has refused to be cowed down, sharpening the attack on the government as was evident in his and Scindia’s speeches in Parliament recently. He spoke extempore now, in sharp contrast to his earlier speeches in Parliament where he referred to a written text, and appeared to be a reluctant participant.
The BJP clearly sees the new trends within the Congress, and recognises the shift. It is thus, targeting Rahul Gandhi over and above the party President because of:
1.The shift in Congress policy. From meek accommodation of BJP concerns for instance to an assertive aggression. This is visible both within and outside Parliament where Rahul Gandhi insists on taking on the Prime Minister directly, with continuous jibes and humour. In Parliament he did a big namaskar to PM Modi when he came into the House during his speech, even as he continued to question his policies; and while campaigning in Silchar just after he said, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday made a one hour and 15 minute-long speech in Parliament and he made personal attacks on me. He made me listen to Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi's quotes. But did not answer a single question I had asked him. I respect him. He is the country's Prime Minister. I asked him four questions but he did not answer." This shift is attributed by the Congress directly to Rahul Gandhi.
2. Rahul Gandhi’s refusal to be controlled by the old guard in the party that had been largely responsible in the past for diluting the Congress stand on many issues, including the Gujarat violence. It was on the advice of a senior Congress leader present with her that made Congress president Sonia Gandhi for instance, not visit the residence of slain Ahsan Jafri to pay condolences to his widow in Ahmedabad after the 2002 violence. The old guard has tried to intervene several times to caution Rahul Gandhi, but this time around he is not listening. As the sources said, “he seems to have made up his own mind, and while he remains polite he is clear that the party line has to be strong and direct against the government. There is no compromise on that.”
3. The new policy to move with the regional parties as and when required. This was evident in Bihar where the Congress entered into a pact with the Janata Dal(U) without the fuss that was evident for instance earlier, when even an old ally like Ram Vilas Paswan (now with the NDA) left cooling his heels for days, for an appointment with the Congress president. This time around the ‘deal’ was struck with the least fuss, as a JD(U) leader had told The Citizen at that time, and the Congress did not raise any issues during and after the elections either. At least nothing that came in the way of the alliance. Again in West Bengal the positive Congress response to the Left front, over and above Mamata Banerjee, is again at Rahul Gandhi’s behest with the Trinamool Congress not even being entertained in Delhi at this juncture. In that the old policy of vacillation seems to have been replaced with a policy that seems to be more decisive.
Sources said that the Congress will be willing to form alliances as and where required to defeat the BJP. The old arrogance has thus, been replaced by a new positive response as and when required.
There is surprise in the opposition parties about the Congress party’s refusal to buckle in. Some of the opposition leaders said it was surprising to see the leaders now give as good as they got, “or even better often” with the side remarks such as Digvijay Singhs jibes and comments that usually created more confusion, having been completely stopped. Of the older leaders Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad are very much in the picture as is Jairam Ramesh.