Why has Rahul Gandhi committed political hara-kiri after thundering to expose Modi?

Saroj Nagi
Saroj NagiDec 17, 2016 | 21:30

Why has Rahul Gandhi committed political hara-kiri after thundering to expose Modi?

In a horribly ill-timed move, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi led a delegation of senior party leaders to submit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a memorandum demanding a loan waiver for the farming community facing distress from demonetisation.

The Rahul-PM meeting, which left the rest of the Opposition fuming, jarred on four major counts. It came on the concluding day of the winter session of Parliament, which the Congress and the Opposition parties had stalled for almost four weeks over the distorted implementation of the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes; it came within two days of Rahul accusing Modi of involvement in the mega note scam; it came in the backdrop of revelations made in the AgustaWestland scam in which former Air Force chief SP Tyagi had dragged in the office of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and, thereby, of the Congress leadership; and more importantly, it came barely two hours before the Congress was to lead a 16-party Opposition march to Rashtrapati Bhavan to apprise the President of the adverse impact of demonetisation on the common people.


Not surprisingly, the move of presenting a joint Opposition front through a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan collapsed even before it had begun. One after the other, angry Opposition parties backed out of it so much so that when the time came to meet the president there were just eight parties in the delegation.

Can Rahul or the Congress recover from this? Credit: PIB

The march was abandoned and leaders drove up to Rashtrapati Bhavan instead. Congress president Sonia and her son Rahul led the truncated group which included the Congress, the JD-U, the RJD and the Trinamool and a sprinkling of four smaller parties like the RSP. Parties like the CPM, the CPI, the NCP, the DMK, the SP and the BSP, among others, kept away.

There was palpable anger among the Opposition parties over the Congress' move to meet the PM. "Every day we have been raising slogans of PM house mein aao, PM jawaab do. And then the Congress goes and meets Modi and that too before we were to meet the president. What message are we sending out," said an angry leader who withdrew from the delegation. "Why couldn't the Congress wait for a day or two to submit the memorandum?" asked another.


Indeed, when the other Opposition parties got to know on Thursday that the Congress would be meeting the prime minister on Friday, they had advised the party against it, pointing out that such a move would send confusing signals to the people.

The Congress' contention was that Rahul had, in the course of his UP election campaign and yatras, received representation from two crore farmers which the party wanted to hand over to the prime minister. But this justification did not carry weight with the Opposition leaders.

It took less than two hours for the Opposition architecture, which the Congress was trying to build since the demonetisation drive was announced on November 8 - and the beginning of the winter session on November 16 - to crumble.

High cost of political injudiciousness

There are four major adverse fallouts of the Congress' decision.

One, it has once again brought Rahul's leadership into question insofar as the rest of the Opposition is concerned. "It did not require rocket science to know that a meeting with the PM at this juncture would compromise the fight against Modi... the optics of Rahul sitting with the PM and then going to meet the President is all wrong... A leader should know when to do what and what to do when," pointed out another Opposition leader.


Before this, Rahul had led an Opposition demonstration on the issue before Mahatma Gandhi's statue or meeting the President on November 23 and December 1. This was part of Sonia's three-point game plan of seeing that party workers, leaders and Opposition colleagues accept Rahul's leadership towards his eventual elevation as Congress president.

Accordingly, Rahul had chaired the Congress Working Committee on November 7 and the Congress parliamentary party on December 2.

The Opposition was gradually getting round to accepting him as its spokesman and leader - as evidenced from the demonstrations and delegations he led on the demonetisaton issue. But now he may have to renew his attempt to be considered so when the Budget session takes place early next year.

Two, it has fractured the newly forged Opposition unity, even if it was limited to demonetisation and perhaps the winter session. "Are we not concerned about what the farmers are going through? If the Congress has taken all the Opposition parties to meet the PM, the signal would have been totally different. It would have also put pressure on the government. But the Congress was playing politics with the UP elections in mind,'' griped another.

"The Congress cannot take us from granted. It cannot do what it pleases and then expect us to join in the name of a joint Opposition offensive. They are a 44 member party in the Lok Sabha, but they behave as if they have much more than that," added another.

Given this, the Congress will have to restart the process of reaching out to its Opposition colleagues when Parliament reassembles for the Budget session. But they will be on their guard where the Congress is concerned.

Until then, each party will hit the ground on the issue in its own way. As it is, the Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has time and again attempted to seize the initiative as an Opposition leader on various issues.

Three, it threatens to dilute the Congress' campaign against Modi. Even Congressmen wonder why after taking their attack on Modi to a pitch, the party had defused it by meeting the PM. "It's like a political thriller which turns out to be a damp squib," said a party functionary.

Four, and perhaps more dangerously for the Congress, it can be misconstrued as an attempt by the party leadership to soften the PM in view of the ongoing investigations into Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland helicopter scandal.

More so, since the PM underlined that the Congress leadership should meet him more often but gave no commitment on a waiver. But can Rahul or the Congress recover from this?

"He can redeem himself by making public the information he has about Modi's involvement in the note scam. This will change the narrative," said a Congress leader. Will Rahul do so? That story is for another day.

Last updated: December 17, 2016 | 21:39
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