By leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra Rahul Gandhi appears to have pulled Congresspersons and liberals out of the quagmire of pessimism they were sinking in. They are singing praises of him as though by merely setting out on a walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir he had triggered a storm that would blow the Modi regime away!
We only hope their bullishness is a propaganda pitch and not a real feeling. For, if they really feel that way, they are fooling themselves. Their jumping out of a sea of despair and into one of delusion will not help either them or the cause of the pluralistic idea of India. For, those who are trying to establish a singular idea of India are not going to be vanquished by a few thousand people singing a song of love. They are well-entrenched in the society. They are no more their stupid monochromatic old selves, but are several steps into transforming themselves into a rainbow.
They have fused singularism with welfarism. They have brainwashed lower castes into wearing Hindutva hats. Buoyed by the success of their rainbow disguise, they have even started trying to seduce Pasmandas, the lower castes among Muslims. Hindutva is no more made only of political ingredients — its new formula has economic ingredients too.
That new formula is essentially an evolution of the Gujarat model. Narendra Modi was the architect of the basic Gujarat model — fusion of Hindutva with economic growth — and he is the architect of its evolution as a fusion of Hindutva with social welfare. In the old Gujarat model, Mr Modi was idolised as ‘Hindu hriday samrat’ (the emperor of Hindu hearts) and ‘vikas purush’ (man of progress). In the new Gujarat model, he is deified for his blend of hardcore Hindutva with ‘garib kalyan’ (welfare of the poor).
The Congress cannot supplant the new Gujarat model with a yatra. It will need a far greater endeavour to do so. It will need a movement, a nationwide mobilisation of courageous people ready to make sacrifices — for the new Gujarat model has not only political and economic ingredients but also legal ingredients. It is a deadly compound of Hindutva, welfarism and repression.
Perhaps, instead of leading a yatra, Rahul Gandhi should have focused on Gujarat. This is where the Gujarat model originated. This is where the core of the evolved Gujarat model is. This is a state which Mr Modi controlled as CM and continues to control even as PM. In this state, Mr Modi is the BJP. The party always sought votes in this state in his name, as it is doing now in every state.
There was no better place than Gujarat for the Congress to mount an attack on Mr Modi. It is going to elect a new Assembly in December. If Mr Modi were defeated in his state, he would be a lot weaker going into the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. A weakening of Mr Modi and of Modiism would mean the poor coming out of the illusion of welfarism and throwing off their Hindutva hats. It would tear apart the social coalition of opposites he has so deftly tailored.
And the Congress was well-placed in Gujarat to challenge Mr Modi. After nearly three decades of living under BJP rule, an increasing number of Gujaratis were wanting a change. The farmers were not happy as their costs were rising and incomes were falling. Farmers who suffered crop failures owing to drought or pests faced difficulties in receiving insurance money. Indebtedness among them was growing.
The living conditions of people had turned from bad to worse owing to rising prices. Families had to cut down on the expenses of even essential goods. The poorer sections, such as tribals and Dalits, who make up 16% and 7% of the state’s population respectively, were in deeper misery. The state government had failed to create enough secure jobs with decent income for them. The economic gulf between the better-off Patels — the core vote bank of the BJP — and the people belonging to the OBCs, tribals and Dalits was increasing.
State repression was growing. Protests were curbed by the police. Farmers, who wanted to go to Delhi to join the protest against the three farm laws, were restrained by police. The young dalit leader, Jignesh Mevani, who is a Congress MLA was arrested and taken to Assam. He has been convicted in a case.
In 2017 the brutal battering of five Dalits by cow vigilantes at Una had resulted in Dalit mobilisation, which had helped the Congress. The Congress had done very well in 2017. It won 77 seats against the BJP’s 99 in the 182-member Assembly. The party got 1.24 million votes against the BJP’s 1.47 million. One of the major factors was a vigorous campaign led by Rahul Gandhi. A party that came close to winning power five years ago should have been more animated and spirited. Rahul Gandhi should have invested more time and energy than he did in 2017. He has visited Gujarat only twice in recent months, whereas Prime Minister Modi has used several occasions to address the people of Gujarat. Arvind Kejriwal has toured the state a dozen times in the past two months.
Gujarat is yet more proof of Rahul Gandhi’s poor leadership. He makes bad strategic decisions, and he lacks focus, passion and team management qualities. A party that came close to winning power in 2017 should have consolidated its gains going toward the elections in 2022. But owing to Mr Gandhi’s poor leadership skills the party kept on losing its MLAs to the BJP. It even lost Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel, who were once seen as GenNext leaders. A few years ago the Congress looked rejuvenated with the induction of the trio of young leaders — Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. Rahul Gandhi seemed to be succeeding in his endeavour to infuse young blood into the party of ageing leaders. However, he failed to retain Thakor and Patel as he could not balance their ambitions with those of the older generation leaders.
So, while Rahul Gandhi warmly hugs ordinary men, women and children on his Bharat Jodo Yatra and Congresspersons and liberals sing a chorus of love, the Congress leaves the field clear for the BJP to return to power for the seventh time in Gujarat. And it makes way for the Aam Aadmi Party to stake a claim to a share of the Opposition space in the state. Are Rahul’s misplaced priorities strengthening the Congress or weakening it?
Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and author