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How to counter Narendra Modi leaves Congress floundering

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the numero uno mass-based politician in the country since 2014. Going into 2019 Lok Sabha election, then Congress president Rahul Gandhi seemed to have got a strategy to counter Narendra Modi.

Rahul Gandhi, by his own admission, strategically decided to damage the “incorruptible” image of PM Modi with his “chowkidar chor hai” slogan. The election results, however, showed PM Modi has become politically unassailable. And, since then the Congress has been in disarray.

Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president and the party turned into a free-for-all circus. As the Congress continues to have an interim leadership arrangement — in Sonia Gandhi — till a full-time president is elected, many senior leaders have either questioned the party’s stand or praised Narendra Modi much to the anguish of the Gandhis.

The Kashmir move

Many leaders in the Congress share the view that the Gandhis’ decision to target PM Modi on issues having massive support of the public is harming their politics in their respective constituencies. This was why senior Congress leaders like Jyotraditya Scindia, Deepender Hooda, RPN Singh and Jitin Prasada came out in support of the Modi government’s decision to revoke special status of Jammu and Kashmir with a new Presidential Order under Article 370.

Congress’s chief whip Bhuvaneshwar Kalita resigned in protest to the party leadership’s stand on Article 370. Kalita said the mood of the nation has changed signalling that the Congress’s blind opposition to Modi is not bringing the party any good.

Scindia was the first to break ranks and announce support to the Modi government’s move. This matter was discussed at the Congress Working Committee a couple of days later. When Congress leadership tried to force a decision to oppose the Modi government over Kashmir move, informed people say, RPN Singh, told them to hit the ground in his constituency (Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh) to understand the pulse of the nation.

The Congress leadership, however, prevailed upon the dissenting voices and all such were made to sign a CWC resolution opposing dilution of Article 370. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, when asked about Scindia supporting the Modi government over Article 370, said, “He also signed the CWC resolution.”

Narendra Modi from Red Fort

Congress faced a similar situation after PM Modi’s Independence Day speech. While the Congress hit out at PM Modi accusing him of misrepresenting facts in his Independence Day speech, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram – currently in CBI custody in an alleged corruption case – took a different line.

The Congress posted a series of tweets with hashtag #ModiLiesAtRedFort but Chidambaram welcomed three announcements by PM Modi. He wrote on Twitter, “All of us must welcome three announcements made by the PM on I-Day: Small family is a patriotic duty; Respect wealth creators; Shun single-use plastic.” This comment did not go down well with the Congress leadership.

Demonising Modi

Last week, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh questioned the overall party strategy of slamming PM Modi on all counts. At a book launch event on August 22, Ramesh said the governance model of Narendra Modi is not a “complete negative story”. Not recognising Modi’s work and demonising him all the time is not going to help, Ramesh said.

A host of Congress leaders seconded Ramesh’s view in recognising a strategic failure of the party. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Shashi Tharoor and even Mani Shankar Aiyar came out in support of Ramesh.

On the other hand, Veerappa Moily — considered very close to Congress’s interim president Sonia Gandhi — has lashed out at Ramesh for questioning the party leadership over countering Modi. Moily held Ramesh responsible for policy paralysis in UPA-II government and hence for the loss in 2014 Lok Sabha election. He said the party should take “serious note” of his remarks on Modi-Congress battle.

Moily also targeted Tharoor for backing Ramesh and “praising” PM Modi regularly saying he has “never” been considered a “mature” politician. Tharoor had earlier sounded a dissenting voice when US President Donald Trump claimed that PM Modi asked him to mediate in Kashmir. The Congress launched a scathing attack on Modi on the matter but Tharoor said the prime minister could not have made the offer.

Rahul Gandhi repositioned

That the Congress does not have a concrete strategy about how to counter Narendra Modi since 2019 Lok Sabha election was evident earlier this week when Rahul Gandhi had to speak the government’s language after Pakistan quoted him in its submission to the United Nations.

After having been stopped at the Srinagar airport last week, Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Sunday calling the central rule in Kashmir as “draconian” that unleashed “brute force on the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Pakistan quoted him in its letter to the UN while seeking its intervention.

Pakistan’s move turned the political tables in India and Rahul Gandhi had to clarify his position denouncing Pakistan’s attempt to present him as if he was batting for Pakistan. In his defence, Rahul Gandhi declared Pakistan as “the prime supporter of terrorism across the world” holding it responsible for violence in Kashmir which he said, “is instigated and supported by Pakistan”.

This is a position that suits the Modi government especially when it is not the first stated choice of the principal opposition party and its top leader. The Congress may well need a concrete plan to counter Narendra Modi to emerge from the existential crisis it is facing. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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