In the recently concluded assembly polls, the ruling BJP and PM Modi seldom missed an opportunity to target the Gandhi family. Personalised attacks on the Gandhis have always been a hallmark of the PM’s election rhetoric. As Gujarat CM, he’s called Sonia Gandhi a “jersey cow” and “pastaben” and today regularly refers to Rahul Gandhi as the ‘naamdaar’ (dynast) in contrast to himself as the ‘kamdaar”. This vitriol against ‘the family’ may not have affected election results but it is a mirror of the syndrome that marks the ruling party: a public contempt and open loathing of the Gandhis. But is Gandhi bashing now not only beginning to sound rather tired and stale but in fact working to Rahul’s advantage?
Ironically, the more hatred is unleashed against Rahul, the more the Gandhi scion is able to take the moral high ground and become the sympathy-attracting ‘bechara’ in the public eye. PM Modi’s campaign speech in Jaipur, where he tacitly pointed to Sonia Gandhi’s widowhood by referring to a ‘Congress ki kaunsi vidhwa thi” was a particularly low blow that elicited a massive chorus of sympathy for Sonia on social media.
Rahul Gandhi has shown that he’s becoming adept at turning the barrage of family-focused insults into a counter for his own brand of political messaging. At a press conference after the Congress victories, he was at pains to emphasise how he had learnt not to be arrogant from PM Modi. The invectives heaped on Rahul ironically enable him to stand forth as the wounded, softer-touch underdog, the defenceless jeered at and sneered at ‘pappu’ who refuses to speak the same language of personal hate and instead reaches out to other small guys, farmers, unemployed and victims of the economic downturn.
The BJP’s stringent criticism of dynastic succession in the Congress has found a justifiably ready echo with vast swathes of public opinion, as it should. When a political party reserves its top post for a particular family bloodline, it overthrows the fundamental democratic tenet of equal opportunities for all. But targeting the Gandhi family when they are in full-blown power is qualitatively different from targeting them when they are a weakened rickety opposition, and Sonia Gandhi is a frail, mostly-unseen figure.
The BJP is in government but it is still using the language of the opposition without realising that the roles are reversed. It is Narendra Modi who is the all-powerful prime minister in the national citadel. So when he targets a family in the opposition, it doesn’t come across as an anti-establishment cry for equality, but an assault on those who have already been punished by crushing electoral defeat.
In 2013-14, PM Modi was perceived as the ‘victim’, who was being labelled as ‘maut ka saudagar’ by mighty Congress leaders. For many he was the ‘anti-elite’ subaltern hero, the outsider in Delhi and a challenger to the privileged elite. But you can’t fire the same bullet twice and expect the same anti-dynasty speak in 2018 to resonate as it did five years ago. In Rajasthan, the PM said ‘he wore a rose but did not care about farmers’ woes.’ In Sikar, the PM declared the Congress had issued a ‘fatwa’ that he should not utter the slogan ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’ But does today’s farmer, labouring under a loan burden, care about which Nehru-Gandhi family member wore a rose in his vest or some imagined ‘fatwa’?
Rahul’s slogan ‘chowkidar chor hai’ is personally insulting too but in a heated political battle at least relates to national issues such as the flight of tycoons and aircraft transactions.
On the other hand, the PM’s reference to the ‘raazdar’ (Christian Michel) giving ‘katki’ to the naamdaar’s friends, helicopter deal by ‘Madam Sonia, and statements like ‘the entire family is shivering’ smacks of an acrimonious personalised hostility. This election campaign showed BJP and Modi still trapped in the now exhausted 2013-14 success formula of shrill anti-Gandhi family enmity.
But they should remember that in the late 1990s, Sonia Gandhi was targeted by the BJP and Sangh for her `foreign origins’ but she still won two elections. Today, despite the no-holds barred attacks on him, Rahul has led his party to three state victories. Voter anger at daily hardships is high, and large-scale economic anxieties demand a language of empathy. A sour bilious attack on the Gandhi family only revives their popularity and confers on Rahul the same ‘victim’ tag that PM Modi once used to ride to power. Attacking the Gandhis as an opposition leader sounds thrillingly gutsy, but keeping up the same attack as prime minister reveals a paucity of new ideas.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
via TOI Blog
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