Monday, 30th October 2017

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Rahul pinpoints attack on Modi

The focus on Modi reveals the Congress’s strategy

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi
  • Published 16.10.18, 1:40 AM
  • Updated 16.10.18, 1:40 AM
  • 3 mins read
Rahul Gandhi Prem Singh

Rahul Gandhi appears to have taken it upon himself to demolish the perception that Narendra Modi’s personal integrity is beyond doubt, focusing almost entirely on the Prime Minister who the Congress believes is still the BJP’s most potent weapon.

The Congress president barely makes passing references to local issues and BJP chief ministers while campaigning in states where elections are scheduled later this year.

Two issues dominate his critique of the Prime Minister — the Rafale deal and bank frauds — although he touches upon topics like agrarian distress and rising unemployment too.

There has been another significant shift: Rahul has so far avoided dwelling on communalism and Modi’s politics. More than 80 per cent of his 30-40 minute speeches are devoted to corruption.

The focus on Modi reveals the Congress’s strategy: dent the Prime Minister’s image as much as possible before the final battle starts for the 2019 general election.

The approach was manifest at two public meetings on Monday in Chambal and Dabra in election-bound Madhya Pradesh where Rahul targeted Modi in the same way he had done at his recent rallies in Rajasthan, another state that will vote in the year-end polls.

Rahul would say “Gali-gali mein shor hai”, leaving it to the crowd to complete the slogan with “Chowkidar chor hai”. (The buzz on the streets is that the custodian is a thief.)

Thrilled by the response, he declared: “Poore Hindustan ko baat samajh mein aa gayi hai (The whole of India has understood this now).”

At Dabra, the chants of “chowkidar chor hai” became so obtrusive that Rahul had to tell the people, “Sahi bol rahe ho, lekin mujhe bhashan karne do (You are right, but let me speak).”

Rahul then brought up the Rafale deal, dwelling on pretty much what has been written over the past few months: arbitrary reduction of the number of fighter jets to be bought, from 126 to 36; (Anil) Ambani, whose firm got the offset contract instead of state-run aerospace company HAL, and the spurt in the price of each jet from Rs 526 crore that the UPA government had finalised to Rs 1,600 crore.

Then he shifted to bank frauds, recalling how Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi had fled with thousands of crores of rupees. “Modi calls you mitron… and makes you stand in the line for days together for your hard-earned money. Have you forgotten demonetisation?” he said.

“But there are people who never stand in the queue in banks. They take thousands of crores and run away. They are all Modi’s ‘bhai’ (brother)… Mehul bhai, Nirav bhai, Mallya bhai, Anil bhai. Has he ever called you bhai? No, his brothers are different; they are allowed to loot your money and escape India.”

Congress leaders support this strategy, arguing that the only valuable political asset the BJP is left with is Modi. “What else is the BJP today without Modi. (BJP chief) Amit Shah may be a manager but is certainly not a political leader,” a Rahul aide told The Telegraph.

“What is left of L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley…? Even the new leaders propped up by Modi — Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar — mean little in terms of electoral politics.”Asked if the obsession with Modi would yield political dividends, a senior functionary said: “These elections are different. We have strong local leaders in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and are tackling the state-specific issues on a daily basis. Rahul has taken it upon himself to deconstruct the Modi myth. He says in closed-door meetings, ‘leave Modi to me, I will take care of him’. The chief ministers are anyway grappling with huge anti-incumbency and they can hope to survive only on the last-minute push by Modi. Hence Rahul is targeting Modi with such obsession.”

At Monday’s rallies, Rahul did mention the Vyapam scam and other cases of corruption Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been linked to.

He also referred to farmers, women’s security and jobs. But all that was over in two minutes while the “chowkidar saga” stretched beyond 30 minutes.