Staying in the news is one way to become the news. Rahul Gandhi has become a headline bandit with constant cannonade against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress vice-president earned the social media sobriquet of ‘buddu’ from a powerful maverick politician of the BJP. The Prime Minister mocked him as a package sans substance.
Yet Rahul is the topic de jour in the national political conversation as a leader whose staying power is fuelled by Modi. Decoding Rahul’s Morse code of malarkey reveals a side that shows street sense in targeting the powerful and popular Modi.
Since the PM uses one-liners to make headlines, anyone who responds gets almost the same attention by default. Even the Opposition parties, which avoided confronting Modi, are now willing to fight him under Rahul’s standard. For the first time, Rahul was taken seriously, thanks to Modi. Leading the campaign against demonetisaion, Rahul spoke on behalf of the entire Opposition.
It was a transformation through temerity—the leader who was known for fumbles and verbal tumbles had suddenly acquired a quiverful of poetic and punitive adjectives to pierce his opponent’s armour. In the gathering storm of the Uttar Pradesh elections, Rahul seems to have become a wordsmith of a new political vocabulary with phrases such as ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ and Modi-made Demonetisation Disaster.
Until now, even after 12 years in politics, Rahul had nothing to flaunt except his Gandhi pedigree.
A successful stratagem of warcraft is to be learned from the enemy. To face the formidable Modi, Rahul has discarded the non-confrontationist political legacy of his father Rajiv Gandhi. Though his Facebook introduction talks, he promised to carry forward Rajiv’s unfinished agenda.
However, it seems he has more faith in grandmother Indira Gandhi and uncle Sanjay Gandhi. RaGa has literally rolled up his sleeves—a signature oratory gesture—for a decisive political bout with Modi. Rahul’s tactics and terminology of the past few weeks reflect Indira’s aggression in his choice of words and the street fighting talent of his uncle Sanjay.
Of late, the Congress’s president-in-waiting has been at his most acerbic best by hitting out at the PM. He has chosen the streets as his battlefield. He joined snaking queues of ordinary citizens to collect his quota of cash following demonetisation. He has criss-crossed the country, chipping away with rhetoric at the PM’s overpowering personality. So far no good. “Honey I shrunk the party,” could well have been his patent line. The Congress diminished from a political giant to a pathetic pygmy with a fragmented identity in three years. But Rahul has never been out of mind or sight of people who matter or vote. From boardrooms to classrooms, he is the subject of either ridicule or admiration.
Rahul has Modi to thank for it. He is in the news for questioning the PM’s personal integrity. Though the 46-year-old Gandhi promised an earthquake by exposing an alleged scam involving Modi, his subsequent revelations didn’t move even a fallen leaf on the political field.
By choosing Gujarat, Modi’s home state, as the battlefield to attack him over supposedly receiving corporate kickbacks, Rahul defined the battle lines for the future. He has decided that it is not the BJP but the PM himself who is his prime target. By striking a muffled martyr’s pose, what he could have said on the floor of the Lok Sabha, Rahul disclosed at Mehsana.
He alleged Sahara paid `40 crore to Modi when he was Gujarat’s chief minister. He also claimed that Modi received multiple payments spread across 2013-14 from the controversial company. In spite of the lack of evidence, he said income tax raids on Sahara’s premises in 2014 yielded documents showing payments made to Modi between October 2013 and February 2014.
Rahul’s verbal velocity is on a roll. He took advantage of Modi’s sartorial sensibilities and labelled the government a suit boot ki sarkar. In Amethi, he chose rhetoric over reason. The sentences, “we want your sarkar. Shirt ki sarkar, chappal ki sarkar, kurta-pajama ki sarkar. And we will show it to you. Yeh to suit boot ki sarkar hai,” were a speechwriter’s dream come true. Before DeMo, he attacked the NDA government’s tax amnesty scheme by calling it a Fair and Lovely exercise to help the rich.
The difference between then and now is that Rahul has upped the ante by raising doubts about the PM’s integrity. Belatedly, responding to the accusations of Modi and the BJP against Manmohan Singh as one of India’s weakest mind-over-matter PMs, Rahul calls Modi a PM whose words don’t matter. Taking on the frequent change in orders on currency exchange, Rahul jeered, “RBI is changing rules like the PM changes his clothes. This is the 125th time rules were changed. Yesterday, the government gave a message that words of Prime Minister are hollow.”
Rahul’s latest strategy to convert adversity into an opportunity is the Congress party’s manual on how to score victories in UP and other states. For the humongous scams during the UPA regime, both prince and party were on the defensive on corruption. Modi never faced a single charge of graft in 12 years as Gujarat CM. But from May 2014 onwards, a new Rahul emerged, seeking an opportunity to engage his adversary in a personal slanging match.
The NDA government’s failure to nail any major Congress leader for scamming the exchequer had emboldened Rahul. When BJP leaders castigated him for protecting tainted colleagues and relatives, Rahul flung down the gauntlet. Addressing a rally last year to mark his grandmother’s 98th birth anniversary, he thundered, “I want to say this Modiji, it’s your government, and you have all the agencies. Set them after me. Show your 56-inch chest. Launch an investigation against me and if you find anything in six months put me in jail.”
By pushing the button of political auto replay, Rahul is trying to unleash the same weapon that had felled the UPA against Modi—corruption. ‘The Illusory Truth Effect’ was a psychological phenomenon discovered by an American researcher, who concluded that constant repetition of subject creates the illusion that it was the truth. Rahul thinks the time has come to become a master of political illusion by parroting the allegation that Modi is corrupt, thereby hoping that some mud will stick. There is a method in his Maul Modi mission. Modi’s demonetisation has given Rahul Gandhi’s career fresh currency, but the run up to the state elections are a vote bank test for Rahul to put his money where his mouth is.