The squabble over who really should be credited for the government’s withdrawal of the controversial ordinance and the bill on lawmakers may well carry itself into the summer of 2014, when parties battle to claim the throne in New Delhi, but October 2, 2013, perhaps represents more than just the ‘new direction’ Indian politics is set to take. Simply put, Rahul Gandhi’s act of rebellion against his own party and government seemed sincere enough to break many an unwritten rule that had so far saved his party from openly addressing the challenges it faced from its main opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After all, it shouldn’t have been difficult for the Congress vice-president to engineer a quiet rollback of the ordinance at an earlier stage if he so desired. But Rahul’s public defiance of the prime minister and his cabinet, at an unannounced press conference in New Delhi, was meant to unravel every calculation the BJP had so far put together as an election campaign.
Evidently, following Rahul’s own overnight reinvention, the BJP will be forced to reinvent and rethink some of its own strategy and plan for 2014, both for itself and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. So far the BJP had worked hard to present the 2014 polls as a presidential election, drawing strength from the fact that while it had a decisive, aggressive leader in Modi to seek a mandate from the people, the Congress was both faceless and struggling under the cross of a reluctant heir, Rahul, and an ineffective prime minister who stood abandoned by his once core support group, the middle class. In a scam-ridden country reeling under a plummeting economy, the BJP had stitched up a messiah-like image for Modi, projecting him as the only answer to the country’s problems. More importantly, the BJP campaign for 2014 revolved around presenting Modi as the only leader who could fill the leadership vacuum in the country. Perhaps, the idea of ‘Modi-as-the-only-option’ may have found itself a new subtext. To whatever final effect, Rahul has inserted himself into that frame—and quite emphatically.
With Rahul’s aggressive comeback, the BJP may finally have found a face that it had long demanded of the Congress to take on in 2014. Surely, this wasn’t what the BJP had been hoping for, just six months before the Lok Sabha polls, especially when the BJP campaign for ‘Modi as prime minister’ focused on milking the prevalent ‘anti-Congress’ mood in the country, filling in the Congress’s leadership vacuum with Modi’s noisy presence. The perennial barbs of “reluctant heir apparent” and “absentee leader” used for Rahul that repeatedly enthused BJP’s cadre and struck a chord with the restless angry youth in the country may lose a bit of its sting and poison now. Perhaps why, on September 27, when Rahul stormed into Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken’s press conference at the Delhi Press Club to call the ordinance “complete nonsense”, 900 kilometres away, in Gandhinagar, sources confirm, “Modi was fuming”. Party sources add that “Narendrabhai was angry that the young lad from Congress so far conspicuous by his absence was suddenly making the right noises and hogging the limelight, non-stop on all television channels.” Perhaps Modi realises that when the din over credit claims dies down, Rahul will be judged by history as a leader who didn’t shy away from going against his own party to change the course of politics in the country.
It is this rising drumbeat of demand for ‘change’ that Modi has been trying to capitalise on. Rally after rally, as Modi slams the Congress party, he exhorts the crowds in attendance to chant “Yes, we can”. The self-aware emulation of Obama’s politics of change is hard to miss. In fact, Modi is not the only one to sense the mood for change in the country. Growing despondency and disquiet in the country has forced leaders across party lines to look for newer approaches to their politics and its execution. As Rahul fashions his politics on that very desire for change, Modi may feel the squeeze for space.
In many ways, Rahul’s outburst that evening was surely and craftily denting Modi’s own plans. For one, Rahul, 20 years Modi’s junior and certainly more popular amongst youth until he lost his sheen for repeated absence from political debates and dodging responsibility as an elected representative, was attempting to re-establish a connect with the Indian youth. It is this large chunk of votebank comprising 65 per cent of the population of the country that Modi has been hard-selling himself to. Post the Anna movement, both the BJP and the Congress have realised that the youth and its anger against the government and corruption can be tapped to swing votes for a credible electoral victory in 2014. On September 29, addressing a rally in Delhi, it was this youth anger that Modi was attempting to tap as he offered a vision plan for India in 2022, exploiting the lack of vision and the anti-corruption mood amongst the young and the middle class.
What further hurts the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is the Gujarat success story that he constantly tom-toms to his audience. In a sense, Rahul’s stance on the ordinance has forced a direct comparison between him and Modi. Rahul will now appear not just to be a fearless leader who stood up to right a wrong, but even a ‘doer’. Modi, on the other hand, will at best appear to be a master at glib talk, who has failed to take action against people like Maya Kodnani and Babulal Bokharia, both ministers in his own government in Gujarat. This will reinforce the Congress’s idea of Modi representing mere rhetoric. With the Congress upping the ante and the BJP depending on one man to work wonders in an extremely unpredictable election season, the Modi wave that the BJP believes in may fall short of a spectacular climax. For now, sources in the BJP confirm that “a rethink on the party’s strategy vis-a-vis Rahul’s new found assertion has not been initiated.”
Yet others in the party, sceptical about Modi mania working magic, are already confessing “being rattled by Rahul’s new avatar. We need to think of a new, more aggressive plan.” For 2014, the battlelines, in the real sense, have only been drawn now.
By Prarthna Gahilote in Mumbai
The PR-driven circus between RaGa and NaMo shows the pathetic state of our politics and our media (Why Complete Nonsense Makes Sense). The whole ‘nautanki’ is starting to resemble the US scene where most of the media align with one of the two ‘mukhotas’ and the debates venture around farcical non-issues. Meanwhile, big business hedges its bets and keep funding both sides: crony capitalism continues, insulated from the turmoil. Why can’t we have a little more coverage of other parties like AAP, hopeless though their chances may be?
Amit Thakur, Tokyo
Rahul hasn’t done enough to qualify for prime ministership while Modi has done more than enough to be disqualified. It is sad that the largest democracy in the world can’t come up with two decent, qualified candidates for the top leadership.
This is funny, build a strawman, fight it, destroy it and then declare victory. This is better than the wwf.
A.N. Banerjee, Newcastle, UK
Whether this ‘rebellion’ was of Rahul’s own thinking or a well-planned strategy, it was a masterstroke. The timing and delivery couldn’t have been better.
The headline says it all, a complete nonsense article.
Gandhar, New Jersey, US
The BJP’s opposition to the ordinance, despite the fact that 31 per cent of its MPs/MLAs have criminal records (Congress: 21 per cent), is laudable.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
The problem is Rahul does not realise or accept his ignorance. But we get it, this has been the trend with the Nehru-Gandhis after Jawaharlal. All of them had this great fall from grace, Rahul is headed the same way.
Gilbert D’Souza, Bangalore
It’s shameful that the Congress had to orchestrate this tamasha to show Rahul in a good light.
Madhu Gheewala, on e-mail
God Almighty!!!!!!! Please !!!! Is there no end to this unashamed chamchagiri by outlook and it's writers?
The author seems to be a Rahul fan!
God save the country if it sees a Prime Ministerial material in someone who is 'young' at 44, can make a unthinking remark that demeans the Prime Minister of his own party and the Cabinet, just throwing out all constitutional niceties to the wind. And finally, it was not somebody's battle that he was fighting. He was fighting against his own party!
To feel that this country will not see a difference between a ugly family spat and a fight for causes is insulting the nation!
So Modi's track record as CM for 12 yrs is mear 'rhetoric' and this one press conference of Rahul makes him a 'doer'. Also when the Vice President of the party (who also is the son of the President and undisputted future leader) speaks against a highly unpopular decision, of his party's discredited govt, on election eave, he is 'Fearless'. And to top it all Rahul was 'certainly more popular amongst youth' for no apparant reason (if there was one you would have spend two para on that).
Trying to make sense of nonsence, is tough isn't it?
the article is (to use Amul baby's language) complete nonsense. I mean, come on now. For 10 years, Congress continues one mega scam after the other, completes ignores the nation be it the lokpal movement or ram setu or 2 G or commonwealth or coal gate, and now on the eve of the election, rahu baba (sorry, rahul, it just feels like rahu ki dasha on the country) suddenly wakes up, calls a bill nonsense, which his own party has sent to the president, drafted by his own law minister and cleared by the puppet minister (PM) and his own mother. That too when there were clear indications that the ordinance may be sent back by the president and BJP may milk it for electoral gains. that is when the baba woke up and called it nonsense. and this trainee journalist feels that he has done some immense help to the nation ? give me a break. People are not stupid, atleast i hope they are not, to be fooled like this. If rahul is really serious about new, clean politics, let him start with his own brother in law and give a real lokpal bill, not another nonsense.
25D-59 Iyengar: Or this entire scenario was totally pre-planned by Sonia Gandhi (and her advisors), informed the the prince what to do, but the prince bothched it up by using harsh 'nonsense' language.
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