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Watch Out for Rahul Gandhi in 2018

Last updated on: January 13, 2018 10:38 IST

'Gandhi and the party he leads must remember that picking holes in the BJP's story won't go far.'
'He will have to come up with an alternative political agenda for the future.'
'But for now, it's game on for 2019 and the rules will be decided in 2018,' says Veenu Sandhu.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

It was with a sense of dismay, and sometimes alarm, that many of us went through 2017 -- the year of hate; of hyper-nationalism; of lynchings over cows, religion and 'love jihad'.

Time and again, I have come to a point when I have wished there was a Ctrl-Alt-Delete command that would restart the year on a better note.

Then again, through the hate and cacophony have come flashes of hope, often from our courts, which made privacy a fundamental right or upheld women's right to dignity in marriage by striking down the practice of triple talaq.

And, just as the year came to a close, hope sprung from another quarter -- a very unexpected one, too: Politics.

As Gujarat went to the polls and the political discourse sank even lower, one voice brought back a semblance of decency: Rahul Gandhi leading the charge for the Congress in a new avatar -- combative, precise, and yet dignified.

In the end, though he lost the election -- like he has so many others -- he caught the attention of the people.

The Gujarat election marked the re-emergence of India's grand old party at the centre of the Opposition space -- that all-important place from which the Congress seemed to have been edged out by smaller parties led by people with more powerful vocal chords, adding to the meaningless din that politics has become.

The political narrative has suddenly become interesting. And Gandhi has become the man to watch out for in 2018, the crucial year before the next general election.

 

Choosing not to stoop to making base accusations, he seems to have taken the Manmohan Singh route of engaging with the opponent with grace.

'My Congress brothers and sisters, you have made me very proud. You are different than those you fought because you fought anger with dignity,' Gandhi tweeted after the Gujarat results, which showed the Congress had performed its best since 1985, and the BJP stopping short of the psychological barrier of 100 seats.

It was also refreshing to see a politician willing to admit he erred and apologising for it. Conceding he had tweeted incorrect statistics from his official handle while questioning Narendra D Modi during the Gujarat campaign, Gandhi tweeted: 'For all my BJP friends: unlike Narendrabhai, I am human. We do make the odd mistake…. Thanks for pointing it out... Love you all.'

'Love' is not a word you encounter often in politics, especially not during a high-stakes election.

Gandhi is turning on its head what Modi did when he was shooting for prime minister before 2014. But rather than ridiculing the opponent, he is employing humour.

He is gradually working on undoing Modi's larger-than-life image, pointing out mistakes in his flagship programmes, slowly dismantling the aura Modi has built around himself.

If Modi's BJP accused the Congress-led government of 'policy paralysis', Gandhi is targeting Modi by saying he faces a 'credibility crisis'.

The BJP had better watch out.

Rahul Gandhi's 'Pappu' days are clearly over. The term, in its kindest form, is a colloquialism for a simpleton. At its worst, a slur for someone incapable of achieving anything.

With eight states, including large ones such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, going to the polls this year, the BJP can no longer win an election simply by targeting Gandhi. It will have to genuinely look at its own policies and deliver on its promises.

Agriculture needs urgent attention and setting a target of fixing farmers' incomes by 2022 won't help.

The Congress, too, has little more than one year to get its act together before the next Lok Sabha elections. There is a good chance that the internal problems it faced in 2014 could recede by then.

At the same time, the BJP's reduced tally in Gujarat shows that its troubles could become bigger.

Gandhi gently let us know through a casual conversation with boxer Vijender Singh that he is a fitness freak and a black belt in Aikido.

In the last campaign we had heard a lot about his opponent's 56-inch chest. Aikido, a Japanese martial art, involves the tactic of blending with the opponent's movements to control his actions with minimum effort, and finding the optimal position and timing to employ a counter-technique.

This could work in politics as well, but only to a point.

Just like the BJP must realise that it is no longer a challenger but a defender, Gandhi and the party he leads must remember that picking holes in the BJP's story won't go far.

He will have to come up with an alternative political agenda for the future. But for now, it's game on for 2019 and the rules will be decided in 2018.

Veenu Sandhu
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