In India, the political graph, image and charisma of a politician shoots up only when he continues to win elections. Electoral victory is the precondition for being a charismatic and popular leader. Winnability quotient defines the stature of the political leader. In contemporary Indian politics, the two figures who are credited as the most popular leaders happen to be the late Indira Gandhi and incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But in the political history of India, one leader who has been exception to this maxim and has been consistently ascending on the political stepladder is Rahul Gandhi. No other leader like Rahul Gandhi has emerged. This may be attributed to a fictional portent, but the fact is this has happened inside the Indian society. Under his stewardship, Congress lost its position of eminence in Parliament, lost elections to the state assemblies. But even these stupendous defeat did not obliterate his political image, notwithstanding the high-budget court intrigues of Narendra Modi, RSS and the BJP.
The threat syndrome of his upswing was so distinct in the RSS and BJP that the cyber cell of the BJP was assigned with the task to launch forceful vilification campaign against him for demolishing his image and political credibility. All kinds of slurs and invectives were hurled on him. The BJP and Modi government spent a huge sum of money to accomplish its mission. For a while, it did succeed, and the insulting sobriquet “Pappu” came to haunt Rahul, as he led Congress to two back to back Lok Sabha poll defeats. However, the name didn’t stick. Ironical as it is for Modi and his party, the more energy and money is pumped into the mission of maligning Rahul Gandhi, the more the political graph of the Congress leader, now its most prominent and vocal ideologue, has soared.
In this backdrop the question arises, why all the manoeuvres of Modi, Amit Shah and BJP have come to eventually fail? The simple answer is Rahul Gandhi refused to pursue petty electoral politics; instead he rode on the pedestal of high political morality and provided a new ideological life-breath to the emaciated Congress. This is the reason that even after losing elections, he continues to the darling of the people. This is clearly manifest in the enormous support and love Rahul has received during his 109 days of Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Congress, which had lost its credibility, political viability and integrity in the eyes of common people and was appearing like a palace haunted by ghost of dead politics, has finally managed to get a leader, an ideology and also enthused cadres by lakhs. This is a major gain for the Congress which has been at the target of Modi ever since he became the prime minister. The avowed mission of Modi, Shah and the Sangh Parivar cronies has been to create a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”. Unfortunately for Modi, his vitriolic vilification campaign against the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family has now boomeranged and is helping rejuvenate the Congress from the grounds up.
Just before launch of Yatra, the Congress looked like a fragmented and incoherent organisation. Even some leaders were sceptical of success, if any, of the Yatra. They were apprehensive of poor response from the people. The reason was the Congress looked like an organisation without future; its committed cadres had withdrawn from active politics and had preferred to lead a secluded life. The leaders were flocking to the BJP. Obviously, taking out the Yatra in such gloomy backdrop needed a strong conviction. But Rahul was sure of his success and launched the padyatra.
Since then, the now 109-day Yatra has created history. Peoples’ frustration and dejection towards Modi and his government received much wider manifestation in lakhs of common men, women and children joining the Yatra on their own accord. Of course, many tried to contrast Rahul’s Yatra with Gandhiji’s Dandi March. Gandhiji’s March was against an alien power aimed at getting freedom from their rule. However, Rahul took out the Yatra against the native rulers who are out to subvert the democracy and finish off the democratic institutions.
It is really surprising that while the political leaders could not understand Rahul Gandhi and decode his vision, the common people, the layman, understood him perfectly and that was the reason that they rallied behind him in millions. In the political history of the country, this was for the first time that die-hard critics of Congress, and especially of the Nehru-Gandhi family, joined in the Yatra, and walked alongside Rahul Gandhi, their heads held high.
For sceptics, his speech of December 23 outside the ramparts of Delhi’s iconic Red Fort provided the candid proof of his having a broader outlook and a long-term vision for the country. At a time when the “Godi media” was thriving on blatant falsehood and serving up hate speech to polarize society, oftentimes manufacturing fake news of Hindu-Muslim clashes, it was pleasant to hear Rahul say that he did not witness violence or hatred anywhere in the country, while walking 3000 kilometres from Kanyakumari to Delhi. He said he saw only love, compassion and fellow feeling among the people. He charged the media of conniving with the government in communalising the people through the constant drip-feed of hate masquerading as breaking news.
He asserted: “TV channels are spreading hatred and doing Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Muslim all the time, 24 hours. But, this is not true as this is spread in the media. This country is one and everyone loves each other and embraces each other, there is no hatred. The media never talks about love. There is a reason behind this as this is being done to divert your attention. They do this to take away your money and hand it over and sell all your ports, airports, roads and other assets to their crony friends.”
At a time when no political leader of national stature dares to take the names of Adani and Ambani and accuse them for all the ills that afflict the country, Rahul in a point-blank style said: “This is not a Narendra Modi government, it is the Ambani-Adani government”. This simply underscored that the threat of survival which has been staring at the face of India is the creation of the two crony super-capitalists. Modi’s entire effort was channelized to help these two businessmen, Rahul said. He even stressed that hatred was being spread on television all the time at the behest of the powers controlling the media.
He attacked Modi and the BJP of spending thousands of crores into destroying his image, saying, “I did not utter a word and remained silent. They went after me on WhatsApp and Facebook, but I still did not say anything. Then I showed you the truth for one month and the entire thing is finished. See how the truth works. The truth cannot be hidden, it comes out.”
A comparative analysis of the Modi government with that of Hitler’s Germany of 1937-38 would make it explicit that the poor and the underprivileged do not have any place in the New India of Modi. In Germany, too, Hitler had penalised the poor to help his corporate friends. Setting the narrative of the alternate policy and politics, Rahul said: “Thousands of crores are being given to big industrialists but not to common people. These are not policies, but weapons to destroy small businessmen, traders, farmers.”
Though the mainstream media, the so-called ‘Godi media,’ and the BJP cohorts and think-tanks have been frantically trying to project the Yatra as an electoral exercise, Rahul nurses the unblemished vision of cleansing the body-politic of the Hindutva fascist vices. If he had the only mission of winning the elections, he would have focused on Gujarat. While Rahul devoted only one day to campaigning in Gujarat, Modi addressed 42 rallies and 8 road shows, and his scheming lieutenant, Amit Shah, was stationed in Gujarat for nearly a month.
For Rahul, the Yatra objectively aims at uniting India and spreading awareness against price rise, unemployment, communal hatred and violence. He alleges that everything including airports and ports now belong to crony businessmen and one day “even the Taj Mahal will be handed over” to them.
From the beginning of the Yatra, Rahul has been exhorting the people not to fear Modi. In his address at the Red Fort, he asked the audience: “You have seen Shivji’s picture? You must have seen his hand like this? What is it called? It’s called Abhayamudra (gesture of fearlessness). What does it mean? It means daro mat (fear not).”
Political scientists and large sections of intelligentsia have always known that democracy cannot be conceived without secularism. Though atheists and rationalists would frown upon such a proposition, the reality is that religion is central to most human existence. Without the freedom to choose and practice religion, democracy loses its essence. On the contrary, Modi continues to terrorise the people with his brand of exclusionary neoliberal Hindutva. Recently, Modi said that secularism had become irrelevant in Indian politics.
In stark contrast, Rahul’s focus on strengthening moral power is a new idea for the Congress, borrowed from none other than the very Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. So far, the Congress has had centrist and liberal political line as its ideological base. It is for the first time that Rahul is striving to provide a staunchly leftist orientation. Ideologue Rahul is a lightning rod to resuscitate a Congress that has forgotten its origin in the anti-colonial struggle and mass movement of peoples protest. Rahul’s message has been received well at the grassroot level. Basically, this is the reason that the massive turnout of poor, lower-middle-class workers, artisans, agricultural labourers and the NGOs was witnessed during the Yatra.
This nature of response at the ground level has been a major ideological defeat for Modi. From the beginning, the BJP-projecting mainstream and social media circuits have branded Rahul as a Pappu (nincompoop), and a Shahazada (princeling), representing the so-called attenuated and disconnected Indian nobility. Yet, it is Rahul who is reaching out to the poor and downtrodden, paying attention to their grievances, making himself freely and physically available to them to hug, rest their heads to cry on, and express their long-suppressed sorrows. The mass adoration for Rahul Gandhi has come as a huge rebuff to Modi’s patently fake accusations. The fact is Rahul is trying to sharpen the ideological line of the Congress, which had gotten blurred over the years, especially the decades after liberalisation. Rahul Gandhi has given a new direction to the political discourse and the Congress has reset the narrative for reclaiming and uniting India over the last 100 days.
Experts feel that Rahul’s new avatar may not electorally help Congress in turning this massive support into votes. May be they are right. But one thing is absolutely correct that he has succeeded in changing the terms of the debate. Undeniably, the narrative is on Congress pitch. Modi is really scared of this scenario, which is why he is trying to create all sorts of problems to foil the Yatra. It is significant that with Yatra gradually reaching its final destination, Rahul has turned more aggressive and spelling out his ideological position as clearly as possible.
The intelligence agencies under Modi government have become more and more proactive in harassing the high-profile Bharat Jodo Yatra participants. The Congress has alleged that the Intelligence Bureau is interrogating many people who participated in the Yatra. It has also been interrogating people who have interacted with Rahul Gandhi during Yatra. Modi ought to realise that this using of government agencies as a tool to terrorise the people would backfire and immensely harm his own interest. The sleuths are also asking for the copies of memoranda they submitted to him. This underlines the nature of nervousness and desperation that has gripped the two leaders from Gujarat. (IPA Service)