Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been very active in the monsoon session of Parliament leading the Opposition charge against the Narendra Modi government. This newfound aggression has won applause from supporters of the ‘grand old party’.
Rahul has been attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party government on farmers’ protests, fuel price rises, mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, the economic distress caused by the pandemic, and the snooping scandal.
As many as 14 of the 16 parties he invited for the breakfast meeting to chalk out a joint strategy turned up for the meeting. While Rahul is to be partly blamed for the in Parliament, his efforts to unite the anti-BJP forces have given them a new lease of life.
From tractor rides to breakfast meetings to pedaling his way to the Parliament, Rahul has been all over the news.
As Swati Chaturvedi writes for , “...Rahul Gandhi seems to have shed his earlier reluctance to cultivate relationships with senior Opposition figures. Several leaders, including (Mamata) Banerjee and (Sharad) Pawar used to complain of frigid relations with him and preferred dealing with Sonia Gandhi. Now, Rahul Gandhi seems to be going the extra mile in making them comfortable within a working relationship.”
So, what is the reason for this newfound vigor? How has Rahul, who has been attacked for lacking the enthusiasm and interest to lead the Congress, suddenly found a fire in his belly? Let us list out the reasons.
1. The party is facing an existential crisis
The Congress is facing an existential crisis. It has performed disastrously in the last two general elections. The party has chief ministers in only three states (Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh).
It is a junior partner in the government in another three states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. It has been wiped out in the Hindi heartland and performed poorly in state elections in 2021.
Twelve states in India have non-BJP/non-NDA chief ministers, out of which Congress has 3 and regional parties have 9. Regional parties are emerging as the main opposition to the BJP ahead of the Congress.
There is a clear admission in the Congress that it is not in a position to beat the BJP in 2024 elections alone and needs to bring on board like-minded parties.
2. Effort by Gandhis to silence critics within the party
The G-23, as it is infamously called, has attacked the Gandhis and especially Rahul, blaming him for the party's defeat and holding him accountable for the current state of affairs. These leaders wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi demanding organisation polls to be held and highlighting the need for a permanent President.
Rahul may have upped the ante intending to show he is in charge, blunt the internal criticism from G-23 and show their leadership is accepted even by the Opposition. The Gandhis have successfully managed to defuse the crisis in Punjab, while Rajasthan is next on their agenda.
3. Conscious effort to prevent regional satraps from claiming the prime ministerial candidate post of a joint Opposition
After a landslide victory in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has exhibited national ambitions. Branded as a giant killer, Mamata has given a clarion call of ‘khela hobe’, for the 2024 national elections.
TMC is the third-largest party in India in terms of vote share. Mamata has been made the parliamentary party chief of TMC. She was recently in Delhi to discuss the shape of a grand alliance against the BJP with national leaders of many parties.
Before this, NCP’s Sharad Pawar met with poll strategist Prashant Kishor to discuss a united Opposition plan. He even attended an Opposition meeting called by Yashwant Sinha of the TMC.
There is a strong buzz about someone like Mamata or Pawar being anointed as the PM candidate of the joint Opposition to take on Modi in 2024. Supporters of both these leaders and strategists of these parties feel that Rahul is not in a position to defeat Modi.
In the 2019 general elections, too, Rahul was not named as prime ministerial candidate of the United Progressive Alliance for the sake of Opposition unity.
With these heightened activities outside Parliament, Rahul's strategy is to claim leadership of the joint Opposition, reiterate Congress is the natural leader of any such a group and nip in the bud the ambitions of satraps like Mamata and Pawar.
To sum up, Rahul’s newfound vigour is not natural but born out of compulsion and it remains to be seen whether the regional parties accept him and the Congress as their leader. Leadership has always been a thorny issue for a united Opposition in the past.