Will Rahul Gandhi’s Ascendancy As Leader Of Opposition Be Game-Changer For Indian Politics?

Will Rahul Gandhi’s Ascendancy As Leader Of Opposition Be Game-Changer For Indian Politics?

Rahul Gandhi, a prominent figure in Indian politics, has faced significant challenges on his distressed journey to becoming a credible leader of the opposition.

KS TomarUpdated: Thursday, June 27, 2024, 07:39 PM IST
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Congress MP Rahul Gandhi arrives for the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi on Wednesday, April 27, 2024. | ANI

Rahul Gandhi's decision to accept the Congress Working Committee’s (CWC) offer to become the new Leader of the Opposition in Parliament may serve a dual purpose. Firstly, he will be armed with a statutory position under the law, positioning himself as a direct rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2029 elections, compelling Modi to take him seriously unlike in the past. Secondly, despite being the strongest critic of the Prime Minister both inside and outside Parliament, Gandhi’s voice has often been drowned out by the BJP's "shouting brigade" over the past decade. However, this scenario is poised to change as the BJP enters the Lok Sabha with a reduced strength of 240 MPs, down from 303 in the previous Lok Sabha.

In contrast, the Congress has almost doubled its strength, increasing from 52 to 102 MPs, including three independents. This bolstered presence will enable the Congress to counter the BJP’s tactics more effectively. A tit-for-tat subtleties and intricacies might emerge in Parliament: if the BJP’s "shouting brigade" attempts to silence Rahul Gandhi as Congress MPs may reciprocate by disrupting the Prime Minister's speeches.

The overall parliamentary balance of power has shifted as well. The combined strength of the NDA (BJP and its allies) will be reduced to 294, down from 336 in the previous regime. Meanwhile, the Congress-led UPA has increased its seats from 90 to 234, including several new additions, which is bound to pose a significant challenge for the ruling party.

PTI

Indira Gandhi As 'Goongi Gudiya' & Her Grandson As 'Pappu', 'Shehzada'

An amended version of Karl Marx's quote suggests that history repeats itself first as tragedy and not necessarily as a farce hence its recurrence has ended up in the form of enhanced prestige for Rahul Gandhi as LOP. It doubly holds true to Rahul whose ascendancy is the by-product of untiring struggle and societal complexities. Political observers point out two stark similarities between the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s comeback in 1980 and Rahul Gandhi’s recent resurgence.

Indira Gandhi earned the title "Bechari" in the eyes of the people due to the excesses and humiliation inflicted on her by the Janata Party after losing power, a fallout of the Emergency's dark era. In the late 1960s, she was derisively called "Goongi Gudiya" (Dumb Doll) by her detractors, which ultimately helped in her emergence as a stronger leader besides bouncing back to power in 1980. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi's rejuvenation as a credible LOP in 2024 comes after being dubbed "Pappu" by the BJP and vilification campaign went unabated for over a decade.

Rahul seized a golden opportunity to shed this stigma during his 4,080-kilometer ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Jammu and Kashmir over 150 days. He focused on winning the hearts of the common people, alleging that BJP leaders spent hundreds of crores on a relentless campaign to denigrate him because they perceived him as a future challenger to Modi. He asserted that the majority of TV channels, newspapers, and social media platforms were part of this conspiracy.

PTI

During this ordeal journey, Rahul Gandhi highlighted his personal struggle thereby emphasizing that investigative agencies, at the behest of the Prime Minister, had been harassing him, going so far as to grill him continuously for 50 hours without finding anything. He lambasted the Modi government for ignoring the woes of common people, village distress, rising inequalities, farmers’ rights to a Minimum Support Price for their produce, youth unemployment, skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, and the undermining of constitutional bodies. He accused the Modi government of being indifferent to these issues while top NDA leaders sat in air-conditioned rooms in Delhi.

At this juncture, experts suggest that the common people witnessed a privileged member of the Gandhi family walking in scorching heat and biting cold, highlighting their problems. This might have changed their opinion about him, leading them to perceive him as a "Bechara Shehzada" (Poor Prince), earning their sympathy and contributing to the BJP's undoing in the 2024 polls. The NDA government’s focus on Hindutva, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and tall promises failed to address people's real issues. Prime Minister Modi can be credited for popularizing the term "Shehzada" (Scion) for Rahul Gandhi, but this campaign ultimately transformed his image from "Pappu" to a credible national leader.

Overcoming Derision Of 'Pappu' & Its Genesis

Rahul Gandhi, a prominent figure in Indian politics, has faced significant challenges on his distressed journey to becoming a credible leader of the opposition. Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s concerted efforts to undermine his reputation by dubbing him with the derogatory nickname "Pappu," Gandhi has demonstrated resilience and growth as a political leader. The term "Pappu," used pejoratively to suggest incompetence, has been a persistent tool in the BJP's campaign to discredit Gandhi. This nickname, amplified by media and social platforms, sought to paint him as a dilettante lacking the gravitas to lead. However, Gandhi's response to this smear campaign has been multifaceted and strategic.

Some senior journalists based in Delhi attribute the origin of "Pappu" to ex-AAP leader and poet, Kumar Vishwas, who contested against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in 2014. However, some critics of the BJP suggest that the derogatory term was coined by the late Arun Jaitley, an intelligent and influential member of the BJP think tank. It is an irony of circumstances that despite UPA1 being in power, the Delhi Election Commission ran an ad campaign in the 2009 parliamentary polls which said, "Pappu cannot vote," aiming to motivate voters. At that juncture, the UPA government was in power and could have potentially intervened through the Election Commission, which was perceived as being loyal to the ruling party at that time, similar to the current situation.

The 2007 movie "Pappu Paas Ho Gaya" introduced the character of an innocent boy labelled as dumb, and the 2010 film "Pappu Can't Dance Saala" reinforced the BJP's derogatory connotation aimed at tarnishing Rahul Gandhi's image. This narrative persisted for over a decade. The nickname "Pappu" stuck to Rahul Gandhi, and the BJP's IT cell further propagated this image, particularly after mocking his speech at the Confederation of Indian Industry on April 13, 2013, which led to the top trending Twitter topic #PappuCII. Amit Shah also taunted Rahul as "Pappu" during the October 2013 campaign, accusing Congress of positioning him as the prime ministerial candidate out of fear of losing the polls, while asserting that Narendra Modi had the people's blessings. Despite this, the BJP's efforts faltered after the conclusion of two Yatras and the Congress party's improved performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections, which saw their tally double to 99 seats. Rahul Gandhi's resilience and strategic responses have begun to shift public perception, allowing him to emerge as a more credible and formidable leader in the Indian political landscape.

@INCIndia

Challenges As Leader of The Opposition

As the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Parliament, he will face numerous challenges that will require him to be a dedicated and full-time, 24x7, leader to face Modi who has got all established credentials and ingredients of hard working and committed leadership. The role cannot be discharged on an ad hoc basis as it will demand continuous effort and strategic planning.

Key Responsibilities & Strategies Include Regular Interaction With Allies

Gandhi must engage regularly with leaders of allied parties to formulate strategies aimed at cornering the weakened BJP-led alliance in Parliament. Building and maintaining strong relationships with diverse political groups will be mandatory. Aggressive yet Mature Approach is essential: It will be a litmus and crucial test of Gandhi to demonstrate aggression balanced with maturity, particularly when highlighting issues of public importance. His ability to address these issues effectively in Parliament will be a key factor in his success.

Unifying a Fragmented Opposition will be a difficult task: One of the most significant challenges will be unifying a fragmented opposition. The diverse political ideologies and regional interests create a complex landscape, making consensus-building a critical yet difficult task.

Countering Ruling Party's Narrative Is Important

Despite the BJP's reduced majority, countering its dominant narrative remains a formidable challenge. The ruling party's stronghold on media and public perception necessitates a strategic and compelling united opposition narrative. Scrutiny of diplomatic and flexible Leadership Style to win confidence of alliance partners: Gandhi's leadership style and communication skills are under constant scrutiny. Establishing his credibility and demonstrating robust leadership in parliamentary debates and public forums are crucial for gaining public trust and support.

Responsibilities As LOP - Holding Govt Accountable With Logic & Facts

Gandhi will lead the opposition’s efforts in holding the government accountable. This involves articulating the opposition’s stance on various issues, participating in debates, and ensuring effective representation. Rallying Opposition Parties: He will need to rally opposition parties, build consensus, and coordinate their efforts. This can be challenging given the diverse ideologies and interests of different parties. Effective Communication is of paramount relevance: Gandhi must develop a penetrating and mature skill to communicate effectively within and outside Parliament. His speeches, statements, and interactions with the media will shape public perception and influence political discourse.

Strategic Decision-Making

Making strategic decisions regarding when to cooperate with the ruling party and when to oppose them requires astute political judgment. Balancing these choices will be crucial. Mastery of Parliamentary Procedures will include the understanding parliamentary rules, procedures, and tactics which are essential. Gandhi will need to master these to effectively challenge the government. Raising Critical Issues as common people expect the LoP to raise critical issues, propose alternatives, and offer constructive solutions. Meeting these expectations will be key to Gandhi’s effectiveness as LoP. Legal Challenges. Rahul Gandhi also faces legal cases, including defamation charges. Navigating these legal hurdles while fulfilling his responsibilities as LoP will require careful management and resilience. Impact on India's Political Landscape. Rahul may get an important post of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which primarily examines reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) .PAC has got a majority of nominees of the government hence it typically decides issues by vote .In addition to this, LOP would be part of various collegiums alongside the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India (or government nominees), responsible for selecting the heads of key investigative and transparency agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioners, and Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).

Analysts opine that political exigencies dictate the course of events in politics. Imagine a scenario when two fierce critics of each will sit on one table to select the heads of CVC, CBI, CEC and commissioners, LOKPAL, etc. which may end up in consensus as the ruling party always prevails owing to majority in these committees. It will require mutual respect, reasoning and adoption of the principle of ’Give and Take’ to cement better bonds between PM and LOP otherwise consequences will be regrettable and deplorable.

Overall, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership as LoP will significantly impact India’s political landscape. To effectively represent the opposition in Parliament, he will have to rise to these challenges, demonstrating strong leadership and a commitment to address the concerns of the people of India.

(Writer is a political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla.)

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