Rahul Has Many Battles to Win Before Going to War With Modi

If Rahul wants to lead the Opposition, he must win a few states in 2018 & lay out a new socio-economic framework.

5 min read
Artistic impressions of PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi used for representational purposes.

Swapan Dasgupta is the original Rightist. At a time when it was fashionable to be a Leftist and a liberal, he decided to swing the ‘right’ way and defend vitriolic Hindutva. He was also the first one among the right-wingers to endorse Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate and has been defending him since. So, I was surprised to read his article in a national daily titled ‘If Modi Loses in 2019, We Are Back to Old, Unsettled Politics’.

In politics, nothing is said or done without reason or basis. So, I got thinking as to what the reason could be. Is it simply an individual’s rant or is it reflective of a larger group’s thinking? Is it borne out of frustration or does it mirror ground reality? Is Modi really losing ground or is it the imaginary understanding of Modi’s critics?

Modi’s Declining Popularity

There is no denying the fact that there is a definite decline in Modi’s popularity. He no longer carries the air of confidence, which was his trademark. At the same time, it is undeniable that there is a definite change in Rahul Gandhi’s body language. There is a spring in his step.

He no longer looks vulnerable or confused, and seems to be enjoying his new, more aggressive avatar. The biggest ray of hope is that those who were scornful of Rahul Gandhi a few months ago have suddenly discovered a new leader in him. As strange as it may be, it is true.

The metamorphosis of both leaders cannot be mere coincidence. These two are interlinked and interdependent. There was a time when Modi appeared invincible — he was beyond reproach.

He was the first and last word in the India political lexicon these past few years. Now it seems that between the first and the last word, Gandhi has stepped in and carved out a space for himself — and this space is growing. The question today is, has this space become so big that it can bring wreak havoc upon the incumbent, at which Swapan Dasgupta is hinting?

Disillusionment With Modi Govt

Let’s accept the fact that the battle which looked totally one-dimensional or one-sided is no longer so. What is true is that the ideological balance is shifting towards the Centre though it is still leaning towards the Right.

There is a definite disillusionment among the middle-class and the corporate sector who were Modi’s original supporters in 2014. The middle-class — comprising mostly salaried individuals — is growing increasingly unhappy due to unemployment and lack of job opportunities.

Salaries have stagnated, chances of vertical movement have decelerated, the possibilities of new jobs have disappeared. Corporates are unhappy simply because the economy is in a mess. Almost every sector is facing a low, with inflation staring at us. And there seems to be no respite in the near future.

Rahul Gandhi was noticed for the first time when he called the Modi government ‘suit boot ki sarkar.’ It underlined the perception that Modi was only working for the rich, and his alleged affiliation with the Ambani and Adani groups also proved detrimental to his image.

Modi, being a smart politician, immediately realised his mistake and changed tracks. He tried to then build an image that his heart would beat only for the downtrodden. But the Rs 10 lakh pin-stripe suit with his name embossed all over it, continues to linger in our minds.

Agitation Against Incumbent Govt

However, the ‘downtrodden’ certainly did not ditch Modi when he implemented demonetisation despite long queues and more than a 100 deaths. Landslide victories in UP and Uttarakhand proved all Modi’s detractors wrong. But the poor implementation of GST and mismanagement of the Baba Ram Rahim scandal seemed to do the trick, to say nothing of a massive slide in GDP.

Now rural distress, compounded by joblessness, is all too apparent. Agitation by different groups across the country — Marathas in Maharashtra, Patidars in Gujarat, Rajputs in Rajasthan, Jats in Harayana, Kapus in Andhra region, Dalits at the national level — and a severe attack on liberal Hindus coupled with anti-Muslim sentiments, is weaving a different narrative.

Today, two of the BJP’s trusted allies – the Shiv Sena and the TDP – are on a warpath. Upendra Kushwaha, another ally in Bihar, and Om Prakash Rajbhar in UP have been unsparing. A few months ago, these allies were circumspect in their articulation but have now become bold.

RaGa’s Tough Fight in Gujarat

Rahul Gandhi, despite his ‘Pappu’ image, had been applauded for his tough fight in Gujarat. It was a narrow escape for the BJP. If Gujarat gave Rahul the confidence that the battle may be tough but not impossible, the massive victory in the Rajasthan by-elections has convinced him that Modi can be defeated too.

His frontal attack in Parliament has hit the BJP where it hurts the most. Gandhi is trying to break the image that Modi is not corrupt. In the Rafale deal he sees a Bofors. The BJP committed a blunder by saying that due to national security concerns, the government cannot disclose the price structure of the Rafale deal. On the issue of Judge Loya, he led a delegation of leaders of 12 Opposition parties to the President and petitioned for an SIT.


RaGa Has Many Battles to Win

Will all of this lead to Modi’s fall? Past events have only re-energised the Opposition, taken them out of the pits of despair and given them hope. It has given an opportunity to the Opposition to realise that all is not lost. Rahul Gandhi can emerge as an alternative, and can be a worthy challenger, unlike the fight in 2014. But to assume that Modi is not popular any more, would be a huge mistake.

If Gandhi wants to lead the Opposition, he must win a few states in 2018, lay out a new socio-economic-political framework for a new India, and build an organisation to spread his ideas.

Let’s not forget that Modi runs a monumental machine, and that the organisation of the RSS/BJP is very intimidating — it is battle hardened and ruthless to the core. Before 2019, Gandhi has to win many battles before he is ready for war. Swapan Dasgupta’s column is only a caution, not the final analysis. Delhi is still too far.

(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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