Congress's confusion

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dominance of national politics and enduring popularity despite economic problems and mis-steps have been helped in no small measure by the puerile tactics of Rahul Gandhi. The former president of the Congress — he stepped down in July 2019, taking responsibility for the party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections — appears to be convinced that personal attacks against Mr Modi are the most effective way to discredit him despite all the evidence of the last six years. Mr Gandhi appears not to have grasped the reality, and cannot understand why his party leaders (such as they are) are not following his lead. He would have done better to emulate his mother, who has resumed party presidentship, and chosen to focus on the plight of the migrants and poor, forcing reactions from the government (such as underwriting migrant train fares home). Yet, he chooses to continue with a strategy that failed signally during the election campaign (claiming at one stage that he had “deconstructed” Modi!).

The fact is that Mr Modi is the personification of a certain brand of majoritarian politics in much of northern and western India that approvingly sees him re-orienting India’s direction and leading it to strength and greatness. That personification and identification make it particularly difficult to bring him down from his pedestal, the best weapon perhaps being the kind of humour that punctures all self-important autocrats. As it happens, Mr Modi has an army of abusive trolls to deal with that. Mr Gandhi is perceived as too much of a lightweight and his efforts to reply in kind, therefore, appear risible — a string of cheap shots aimed at Mr Modi and an effort to rely on some sort of hazy soft Hindutva platform do not amount to a credible political platform.

Indeed, Mr Gandhi has failed to spot the fact that Mr Modi is a repeat of the political phenomenon that was his grandmother, Indira Gandhi. Opinion polls in her time would repeatedly show that people were dissatisfied with the state of the country, but she would remain uniquely popular because her brand position too was well defined and nurtured as someone who stood for and by the poor. The facts may be otherwise, in both cases, but facts and perceptions can and do vary. To target Mr Modi personally, especially when 50-year-old Mr Gandhi’s own privileged career is seen as a succession of failures, displays a stubborn cussedness and a lack of self-awareness. His failure to attend even a single meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on defence, even as he keeps up a barrage of tweets on Mr Modi’s handling of the China crisis, is a case in point. It has provided the Bharatiya Janata Party faithful with a useful issue to berate Mr Gandhi’s so-called efforts to “demoralise” the “valour” of the armed forces, an issue that resonates strongly with a certain kind of patriotic India. It is no exaggeration that under Mr Gandhi as a twice-born dynastic president of the party, the Congress will remain one of Mr Modi’s most valuable political assets: A weak, deluded and potentially imploding opposition party.

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