Rahul may have got his sums wrong

Rahul may have got his sums wrong

Though Manmohan Singh was called an “Accidental Prime Minister”, for the first family of Congress it was Narendra Modi who had usurped the top job from its crown prince in waiting by sheer fluke or a sleight of hand. So deep was the disdain that, for a long time Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were reluctant to even mention Prime Minister Narendra Modi by name. Those watching television on the day of the results in May 2014 would probably recall Rahul Gandhi briefly coming out before journalists and awkwardly admitting that “the other party won” with no reference to either Modi or BJP.

So, the tone was set from day one even if the first salvo was fired sometime later with the “Suit-Boot Ki Sarkar” jibe after the Modi Government faltered on the Land Acquisition Bill and Modi’s infamous wardrobe faux-pas. Since then, the Congress machinery has been systematically raising the ante against Modi by careful calibration, starting with “Award Wapasi”. This has gained momentum in the last six to eight months with the Government hitting a rough patch in the economy.

Make no mistake, the Congress’s infructuous move for impeachment of the Chief Justice of India should not be seen in isolation or in the limited context of some recent judgements and cases pending before CJI Dipak Misra. Though the Justice Loya decision may have been used as a trigger to derail the Ram Janmabhoomi case, coming on the heels of the no confidence notice in Parliament that could not be taken up, it is clearly a part of a larger plan to paralyse governance and make Modi a lame-duck Prime Minister.

All at once, the Government seems to be under siege with attacks on all fronts – political, economic, banking frauds, farmers’ protest, agrarian distress, law and order, internal security, external relations (Pakistan, China, Nepal and Maldives), currency crunch with ATMs mysteriously running out of cash, humanitarian tragedies (rape), religion (Dalits and minorities) and now the judiciary. The good news, if any, especially on the economy, is getting buried under the din.

The opposition, especially the Congress and its new president, who seem to have come out of a late adolescence, are firing missiles at Narendra Modi that range from the bizarre to ridiculous. As a sampler, one can cite Rahul Gandhi’s howler connecting the ATM crisis with the truant jeweller Nirav Modi absconding from the country after defrauding the banks of an alleged Rs 30000 crore. The comparison is too far fetched even for any metaphorical licence.

None of our major national institutions, starting from the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Army Chief, Police, Investigative Agencies, Election Commission, the Reserve Bank Governor, have been spared.

Irony touched its zenith when Rahul Gandhi launched a “Save the Constitution” movement this week. A political atmosphere is being conjured up that is reminiscent of the pre-Emergency days of 1975. Coming from the grandson of Indira Gandhi, this indeed is a bit rich. But, where does this confidence stem from?

Rahul Gandhi is, obviously, playing to a script written by campaign managers and election consultants. They are probably betting on two assumptions. First, public memory is short and especially the present generation have no recollection of the Emergency era. Secondly, it comes from the belief that the aura around Modi has faded significantly and incumbency fatigue is beginning to weigh him down. Both the premises may hold some water and in a game of psychological manipulation it may be smart tactics to gamble on them rather than trying to nail Modi on facts and statistics.

In a carefully choreographed act, Rahul Gandhi displays the cultivated brashness of a man in a hurry to take up a job that he feels is rightfully his. Some may see this as a sense of entitlement given his track record and the fact that his party is in the doldrums in most States. Rahul is, probably, banking upon the fact that if he turns these elections into Rahul Gandhi Vs Modi, he would emerge as the natural choice for the PM’s job despite other claimants in an opposition coalition.

Rahul’s advisers may not be far off the mark in that assessment. For all talks about a third or fourth front, regional and smaller parties are content to be junior partners as long as they are able to get a share of the pie. The fragility of past experiments at cobbled up coalitions have left them wiser. They know it would be easier for them to extract a price out of Congress than from the BJP under Modi-Shah control.

A large section of the business community, who had interpreted “Acche Din” to mean a free-run for them under BJP rule are palpably disillusioned and harking back for the good old days of the wheeler-dealer-fixer Raj. This, perhaps, explains Congress suddenly looking flush with funds. Foreign powers inimical to India’s interest would love to join the party and queer the pitch for Modi, who may be wary of his growing international stature from being a persona non-grata before 2014.

The long nurtured Lutyens’s ecosystem that was facing an existential crisis is happy to join the orchestra drummed up by family retainers. The old loyal media, starved of easy access, junkets and freebies, has jumped into the choir. Many senior bureaucrats of today, who had spent their formative years in service under a Congress regime, feel a natural affinity towards the dynasty and long for its old permissive ways. They are willing to pull strings from back stage.

If the Gujarat results, by-polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and, now, the early Opinion Polls of Karnataka predicting a photo finish or hung Assembly are anything to go by, then the strategy is acquiring some traction. This has injected new enthusiasm among the visceral Modi haters, who would like to write-off the last four years as a bad dream or aberration.

For facilitating the return of the old order, they are willing to turn a blind eye to or passively participate in the subversive tactics of Rahul Gandhi and Congress, despite its immense potential of causing permanent damage to democratic institutions. They seem to subscribe to the slogan of “Modi Hatao, Desh Bachao” a bit too seriously.

However, where they may be miscalculating is that it is no longer about Modi or just another election in 2019. There has been a tectonic shift in national politics that go far beyond caste and religion. In trying to portray Modi as a villain or Frankenstein's monster, they are inadvertently taking on a much larger constituency, whose backlash may be hard to withstand. Anyone aspiring to be the next Prime Minister must understand that. The rules of the game have changed irrevocably. The hand-me-down user manuals from the family attic will not work anymore.

Rahul Gandhi, therefore, may once again err in his assessment of “the other party” who has not yet even come out to bat.

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