Modi vs Rahul in Lok Sabha a Tie. Now for the Super Over in 2019

Rahul Gandhi with his photo-op in Parliament finally got under the rulers’ skin.

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3 min read

The opening game of the Electoral India Cup of 2019 was played in the no-trust vote in parliament. And the result? In my reckoning, a draw, which sets us up nicely for the penalty shootout that could continue up to May next year.

Rahul Gandhi, the main striker of the underdog team, finally added the one weapon that was missing from his arsenal, namely the ability to create the big political photo-op and dominate the narrative.

Mainstream media, long used to giving a 90-10 skew to Modi on its front pages, was forced to cede half the space to Gandhi. Clearly, Rahul had gotten under the rulers’ skin. Their responses were singularly humourless.

It reminded me so much of that iconic Bollywood dialogue: “aap karein toh ishq, aur ham karein toh ‘sex’” (ie, “when you do it, it’s ‘love’; but when I, the lesser privileged one, do the same, you call it crude ‘sex’”)!!


But I was sure that when his turn came, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would “do a Vajpayee” and simply deflect Rahul’s yorker off his toes to deep fine leg, with a charming smile and wave to the gallery (I am mixing my football and cricket metaphors, but what the heck, all’s fair in war and politics).

He could easily have said something like “abhi tak toh mainay keval unkay baarey may suna hi tha, par aaj Munnabhai say yahan mulakat ho hi gayi; arrey bhai, jaadu ki jhappi toh theek hai, lekin zara padh-likh kar MBBS paas toh kar lo pehlay (until now I had only heard about the popular Bollywood character Munnabhai, who gives magical bear-hugs to people, but today I finally met him here; my friend, these theatrics are good, but why don’t you finish your medical/MBBS studies and graduate?) ”.

Instead, Modi lit into Rahul with undisguised ridicule.

So how are the two adversaries stacking up before the 2019 General Election? As I’ve consistently maintained, after becoming Congress President, Rahul Gandhi is transforming into a promising politician:

  • He led an energetic campaign in Gujarat, daring to take on Modi and Shah on their home turf.
  • Then he took an outsized political risk by moving for the Chief Justice’s impeachment. That put the Supreme Court under harsh public scrutiny, nixing the danger of any misadventure.
  • He learnt the art of a quick/opportunistic compromise in Karnataka, a strategic retreat to build up reserves for the final assault in 2019.
  • He revamped his top leadership, dropping a few heavyweights, and inducting plenty of young talent.
  • Finally, he upstaged Modi, the master of the political photo-op.

As for Prime Minister Modi, he seems to have retreated further into his echo-chamber. He had a great opportunity to reclaim his estranged/disappointed liberal supporters of 2014 (that additional 5 percent of voters that had catapulted the BJP’s core base of 26 percent to 31 percent), but he rudely ignored them: He could have taken a vow to stamp out the mob lynching of Dalits and Muslims, unfollowed vicious trolls, made a commitment to dismantle the surveillance state, regretted accusing former prime minister Manmohan Singh of treason and held marital rape to be as unacceptable as triple talaq.

So many things he could have done, but silence got in his way! Instead, his singular focus was on demonising the Nehru-Gandhi family.

And he repeated, ad nauseam, the same string of statistics, some of which have been soundly challenged, to talk up his government’s achievements.

Let me stretch out my neck to predict: While Prime Minister Modi is ahead in the 2019 sweepstakes, his challengers are closing in. And 40 weeks are a long time in politics!

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