Two months ago Rahul Gandhi was leading massive crowds in the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and was being hailed for reviving the Congress. Rahul projected himself as the voice of the people, he spoke about love, harmony and brotherhood and even said in one of his addresses that he had left “Rahul Gandhi” behind long back. This philosophical yatra was also accompanied by calls for the grand old party to be the fulcrum of any coalition challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2024. Now that the party scion stands disqualified and there is a cloud over whether he can even contest the 2024 general election, the road ahead for Rahul as well as his party is under question according to many political experts, who see this as a major setback. But if you look at the general public sentiment, Rahul's disqualification could be his great turnaround moment. The common man has a few questions which cannot be ignored… Why was Rahul banished from the Lok Sabha? Are we seriously accepting that the comment he made during the election speech was defamatory to the whole community of Modis when he in half jest asked that why is it that so many thieves have the name “Modi” in common? Are our standards of public civility so high that this jibe from Rahul Gandhi was found criminally offensive by the court such as to give him the maximum punishment of two years? These are the queries which perhaps will evoke a larger wave of sympathy for the beleaguered Rahul — only if Congress can communicate this injustice and political vendetta in simple terms without coming down hard on the court or the judge.
While it’s for the judiciary to see whether Rahul remains convicted and disqualified, if the Congress can plan and organise its narrative fittingly, public support is expected to rise in the wake of the current imbroglio he is facing. Not only will Rahul’s stature shoot up, he will also gain wide-ranging acceptability which will project him as a bigger leader, perhaps boosting his public image. The defamation case slapped against him is not such a serious offence as to sway public sentiment. Had it been a case like one of corruption, murder or some other serious offence, then everyone would have accepted the action. If the Congress succeeds in telling the people that those who are sanctimoniously sermonising that Rahul exceeded his limits of discourse while cracking a joke are those who call for extermination of Muslims, if the Grand old Party is able to transmit the message that if Rahul's speech demands this punishment then many BJP leaders would rot in jail, that's when Rahul will emerge as the voice of the nation, a voice against dictatorship.
History has a pattern of repetition. Rahul's disqualification is reminiscent of the vengeful treatment Janata Party meted out to Indira Gandhi in October 1977 when it arrested her and four former ministers on charges of corruption and misuse of authority. The Janata government decision boomeranged, swaying public sympathy in her favour within months of the Congress’ historic loss in the post-Emergency general election. Her arrest brought her back to public life and focus.
It’s a norm that the more the Opposition leaders are targeted with draconian laws, the more it helps the Opposition; taking a cue from this, Rahul could emerge as a hero, victim of a ruthless political system. If politics is all about the game of one-upmanship, the matter of Rahul Gandhi's comment on the Modi surname could open up a Pandora's box as BJP leaders too have levelled all kinds of allegations against Opposition leaders in the past. The Congress has put up a brave face, calling it a black day for Indian democracy and asserting categorically that the battle will be fought both politcally and legally. There is no doubt that Rahul’s disqualification has evoked a lot of sympathy notwithstanding BJP’s claims to the contrary. However, the Congress does not have a strong and robust organisation to capitalise on this development. Political dividends will not come easily, hence the solution lies in strengthening the organisation. Goes without saying that Rahul is the central rallying point for the Congress and a banished Rahul can bring more steel into the party. There is an old saying, “never bring your opponent into the limelight, specially by criticising him all the time”. Rahul will certainly become more warlike, bellicose and pugnacious and this could be a foreshadowing of the anti-Modi wave in the country which could perhaps culminate as Rahul Gandhi’s second coming.
Neelu Vyas is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi
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