China Crisis: Solutions, Not Criticism Will Give Rahul Credibility
Rahul Gandhi comes up with clever lines to attack Modi but seems to have no solutions to offer for the crises.
Here’s an enduring puzzle of Indian politics: why does Rahul Gandhi get under the BJP’s skin?
A string of electoral defeats prove that he’s no match for Narendra Modi. Salvos like “chowkidar chor hai’’ simply bounce off the PM’s Teflon-coating. Rahul Gandhi is not even the Congress president any more, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back any time soon to challenge PM Modi.
Why Are Rahul’s ‘Attacks’ Riling Up The BJP?
So, why then is the BJP in a twist over Rahul’s daily tweets on the face-off with China in Ladakh? From heavies like Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and JP Nadda, to lesser mortals like Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and BJP IT Cell Chief Amit Malviya, the party has been going hammer and tongs at Rahul, accusing him of being a “traitor’’, “irresponsible’’ and playing “petty politics’’.
The latest fusillade seems to have been prompted by Rahul’s efforts to punch holes in Modi’s ‘strong leader’ image, and snatch away his nationalism plank. Sample his tweets after Modi’s poorly-formulated “no Chinese intrusion’’ claim at the recent all-party meeting. Rahul upped the ante with a personal attack on Modi. “PM has surrendered Indian territory to Chinese aggression.’’
“Narendra Modi is actually Surender Modi. (sic)’’
“Why is the PM backing China and not (India) and our army?’’
The backlash was quick and harsh. Every tweet of Rahul’s was met by a tirade from BJP leaders. But Rahul seems undeterred. He’s nothing if not persistent, and shows no sign of letting up.
By ‘Attacking’ Rahul Gandhi, BJP Has Put The Spotlight Back On Him
The outpouring of BJP rage suggests that Rahul has managed to touch a raw nerve. The epithet ‘Surrender Modi’’ must hurt, because the Chinese ingression into Ladakh, and the brutal slaying of 20 Indian soldiers by the Chinese army, have raised serious questions about the government’s China policy and its management of border security.
As Modi buckles down to tackling his biggest diplomatic and military crisis yet, his cheerleaders may have inadvertently created a domestic political problem for him as well.
By training their guns on Rahul Gandhi, they have put the spotlight back on him and legitimised the issues he’s been raising.
Rahul was actually the first politician to red flag the Chinese activities in Ladakh. As far back as 29 May, he tweeted a demand for the government to “come clean and tell India exactly what’s happening’’, because its silence about the border situation was fuelling speculation and uncertainty.
Government leaders rightly ignored Rahul’s tweets till he raised the pitch several notches and went for Modi personally. The Achilles heel was exposed, and now Rahul is all pumped-up because he feels that he’s drawn blood. The outcome of this unfolding tussle depends largely on how successfully Modi tackles his biggest diplomatic and military challenge yet. The China riddle is yet to play itself out.
It has only added to the burden of a government weighed down by the worst health pandemic the world has seen in a century, and an economic crisis of humungous proportions.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Public Perception’ Crisis
Much also depends on how Rahul calibrates his politics. He’s been quite clumsy so far despite Modi handing him an advantage at least twice in the past six years. The first advantage that went to Rahul was when he threw the “suit-boot ki sarkar’’ jibe at Modi.
The phrase was coined after Modi was photographed wearing an expensive suit embossed with his name during former US President Barack Obama’s 2015 visit to New Delhi. It hit Modi hard, and the response was similar to the current one.
Senior ministers lined up to belittle Rahul, the term ‘Pappu’ was flung at him, and every effort was made to cast him as a part-time, irresponsible politician.
But it was clear that the PM took the phrase to heart, because he began a conscious image makeover, casting himself as a messiah of the poor instead of the corporate-friendly pro-reforms leader that won the 2014 polls.
Modi’s fleet-footed smart political response won him that round, and he held on to his lead despite demonetisation and a disastrous start to the implementation of the GST.
And yet, Rahul fortuitously got another advantage when questions appeared in a section of the French media about the Modi government’s deal with Dassault to buy Rafale fighter planes. As questions swirled, Rahul came up with the phrase “chowkidar chor hai’’. It seemed to be gaining resonance till the Supreme Court cleared the government of any wrongdoing, and the French government interceded to silence the accusations.
Instead of backing down, Rahul continued with the slogan and raised it at every election meeting. All it did was earn sympathy for Modi, fresh from his Balakot surgical strike against Pakistan, and derision for Rahul for flogging a dead horse when nationalist sentiments were running high.
How Can Rahul Gandhi Change Image Of ‘Part-Time’ Politician?
Rahul’s chief weakness is one of public perception. He seems to lack the gravitas for voters to choose him as their next prime minister. The BJP’s ‘Pappu’ label has stuck, and Rahul has done little to erase it. He’s like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. He disappears and then reappears. This tendency only substantiates the BJP’s charge of ‘part-time politician’.
He comes up with clever lines to attack Modi but seems to have no solutions to offer for the problems at hand.
For instance, on the China face-off, he’s been quick and sharp with criticism. But he has not articulated a single strategic, diplomatic or military option that India could exercise to equalise the balance with China after the transgressions in Ladakh.
This is Rahul’s third chance to bounce back in contention. The BJP’s shrill attack on the Congress leader only reaffirms its defensiveness on the events in Ladakh that led to a bloodbath on 15 June. It remains to be seen whether Rahul has acquired the maturity and savvy to become a relevant voice at a time when there are multiple crises facing the nation.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. 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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