Weeks before the end of 2016, when PM Modi was facing an all-round attack from opposition across the country over his demonetisation decision, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s one statement made the headlines – not because of its seriousness but mostly because it provided a comic relief in the troubled times of noteban. Rahul had said there would be an earthquake if he was allowed to speak on demonetisation in the Parliament. His statement attracted attention, even of PM Modi who made it a point to deride the Congress scion at an event in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
They have a “youth leader”, Modi said, who is learning to make speeches. “My happiness has no limits since the time he has learnt to speak,” the PM said amid laughter at the venue. The event was apparently a part of BJP’s early outreach to people for the UP assembly elections in which a saffron storm swept the state. But throughout the campaign, Rahul’s scathing attacks on Modi government continued to make headlines and it is happening even now. Earlier it was surgical strikes, demonetisation and farm loan, now Rahul has upped the ante against Modi and BJP on issues like GST, growth and job losses.
What is peculiar about Rahul Gandhi’s journey so far is that despite being the subject of mockery, and having been advised to quit politics from historians like Ramchandra Guha, he has persisted with his kind of politics, which is inspired from no one else but PM Modi himself. Years before 2014 General Election, Modi had started attacking each and everything, including the then PM Manmohan Singh. His persistence paid off. Rahul Gandhi’s persistence with the policy of ‘attack everything done by Modi’ has started to gain traction and it is evident. If Modi can win with such strategy, the BJP should think: Why can’t Rahul?
The battle for 2019 is set to become interesting as Congress has finally shed inhibitions of the past, ignored critics, and decided to coronate Rahul Gandhi as party president. Whether Rahul succeeds or not in the electoral battlefield will depend on many factors – including his own ability to convince voters to have faith in his leadership. But Rahul Gandhi can no longer be dismissed as an insignificant leader and a non-serious politician. The simple reason for this is the fact that he is soon going to chair an important office – the office of the Congress president, of a party which appears to be in a revival mode, after over three years of electoral bashing by the BJP.
While the opposition was faceless in 2014 General Elections, it won’t be the same in 2019. Modi will have a young challenger and the saffron party can’t afford to ignore him, especially when the majority of the electorates across the country are young, often restless and confused to some extent.