Part One of two-part Blog.
It’s often said that BJP’s single biggest campaign success in 2014 and 2019 was creating a ‘Pappu’ out of Rahul Gandhi. This effectively rendered Congress campaign ineffective and converted both elections into a one-horse race. Hilarious memes are created every other day to mock Congress and Rahul, further denting his image. At times BJP spokespersons themselves have called him BJP’s ‘Star Campaigner’. Also, it is no secret that he is no match to the towering personality of Narendra Modi. But to say that it’s because of Rahul Gandhi, BJP is winning elections is nonsense.
True, that Congress hit its rock bottom with Rahul at the helm. But Congress’ worst performance has hardly to do anything with Rahul as such. Actually, when Congress performed at it’s worst, Rahul was there. The more accurate analysis would be, that he was not able to pull the party up singlehandedly like Narendra Modi or his Grandmother, Indira Gandhi. But that’s downright unfair. When it comes to winning elections there’s no one quite like these two. For the disastrous performance in 2014, if anyone has to be blamed it’s Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.
These two ran one of the worst administrations between 2009 to 2014. UPA II, as it was known, was a complete disaster on both, Economic and Cultural fronts. For these 5 years, the average inflation was a disastrous 10.4 %. In simple terms, it means, something which was costing Rs 100 in 2009 was at more than Rs 165 in 2014. Whereas the average GDP growth during this period was 6.70%. So, the revered Economist Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh actually reduced the incomes of the crores of people by more than 15% in just five years. No wonder the poor voted Congress out in 2014.
On the cultural side, Sonia did everything to infuriate Hindus. Amongst, culturally awake Hindus, Congress was not popular anyway. The Urban Middle-Class vote which it lost after Ram Janma Bhoomi, never came back. Notwithstanding this unpopularity, Digvijay Singh launched a book by Aziz Burney named ’26/11 RSS ki Saajish’ in 2010. Then again, same year P Chidambaram, the home minister urged people to be aware of Saffron Terror. The same term was used by Sushil Kumar Shinde again in 2013 when he was the home minister. Congress literally went overboard chasing the Muslim vote.
Add ‘Sonia cried looking after Batla House Encounter’ story to this and you realize, Congress not only went overboard chasing Muslim votes, but it was insulting Hindus. How can Congress President shed tears for Islamic Terrorists, who are regarded as enemies of the nation by the majority community? Congress had taken the Hindu and Nationalists (Difference between two) votes for granted. In 2011 Sonia tried to bring Communal Violence Bill, which was completely loaded against Hindus. This one step was nastier and damaging than all these chronicled above. The bill generated such outrage that Congress shelved it without bringing it to parliament. But this revealed its true colors and feelings towards Hindus. It also provided a big opening to BJP to brand Congress as an anti-Hindu party.
One can ask, what’s so new about this? Congress did it earlier (Shahbano, Kashmiri Pandit exodus for example) and still managed to rule for many decades after. To me, along with these failures of Sonia and Manmohan Singh, there was another factor in 2014. And that was Narendra Modi. BJP, riding on his image as an able administrator and clear & clever messaging simply demolished Congress. And brought it down to 44 seats in Loksabha. There was another factor, a subfactor actually. The corruption charges against Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and Shiela Dixit. I don’t think Indian voters mind corruption but, when combined with high inflation it was a potent mix. At the cost of repetition, along with all these, the message which Modi-Shah’s BJP delivered, snuffed life out of Congress campaign.
So, in a way, outside that narrow Lutyens’ lane and Liberal Lounges, 2014 was done and dusted even before the ECI plugged the first EVM. Now the question is why Rahul Gandhi failed again in 2019? Frankly, he had no chance. For BJP, if 2014 was about exposing Congress and effective messaging, 2019 was the consolidation of old vote-bank and adding new voters through some solid economic benefits to the poor. Plus Congress didn’t seem to be rethinking on Muslim appeasement and hence gave no reason to Hindus to desert BJP. If Congress lost badly, it’s not because of Rahul, but because it’s caught in a bind on how to handle Culturally Awake Hindus without disturbing Muslim vote-bank. And as we enter the seventh year of the Modi-Shah era, they don’t have any answers to this challenge. Expecting Rahul to come up with one, is an injustice to him.
By now if you are thinking I like Rahul Gandhi, can’t blame you. For the record, he is downright unfit to lead the party. But so was Rajiv Gandhi. Yet he was not mocked the way Rahul is. That’s because he came in when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the country was going through a trauma. But eventually, he too was exposed when he wasted the massive 414 seat mandate and was destabilized by a wily UP politician named Vishwanath Pratap Singh. So, you never know what would have been the result had Rajiv faced BJP of 2014. My point is, Rahul is not too different from his father. He is facing different conditions and Congress ideology has run its course.
Now the question remains why BJP spokespersons and even journalists who oppose BJP seem to agree on this one thing? That Rahul is a Pappu. And yet the same Congress, which was so trusting these journalists only a decade back is not ready to replace Rahul?
As declared at the top that this is the first of the two-part blog. Will try and answer these vexed questions in second part.