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'Rahul seems like an angry young man'

March 04, 2024 10:04 IST
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'His way of communication is different than the first yatra.'
'Maybe his anger and frustration stems from the fact that no one is asking hard questions to the government and he is trying to do that.'

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi speaks during the party's Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, February 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The BJP was in search of a mega narrative for 2024 and found that in the Ram temple," says Dr Shilp Shikha Singh, assistant professor at the Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow.

Dr Singh's areas of interest include politics of marginalities and governance, changing electoral dynamics among marginalised communities in UP and Indian government and politics.

In the concluding part of the interview with's Archana Masih, she discusses the challenge before the INDIA alliance, the eclipse of Mayawati and the BJP coming a full circle as it seeks a third term.


Will the euphoria of the Ram temple remain till voting day?

It will. A large number of people are visiting Ayodhya and the BJP will keep it in the forefront.

In this election the BJP has come full circle. The party began with Hindutva politics and is completing the circle with Hindutva as it seeks a third term. This election is not about development or welfarism, it is about Hindutva.

The BJP was in search of a mega narrative for 2024 and will fight this election on the Ram temple and Hindutva. Everything else is an add on.

The BJP decides the narrative and other parties respond to it.

It is largely felt that Rahul Gandhi's yatra is ill timed and not gaining much traction in building a counter narrative?

They could have started the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra earlier which could probably have brought some benefit, but the Congress is trying to set its own narrative through the yatra.

It may strike a chord with the voter or it may not.

Rahul Gandhi comes across as being more aggressive and angry this time. He seems like an angry young man. His way of communication is different than the first yatra. Maybe his anger and frustration stems from the fact that no one is asking hard questions to the government and he is trying to do that. He is trying to set an alternative narrative.

The yatra started well in Manipur, but got overshadowed with the Mandir inauguration. It did fairly well in West Bengal, but Nitish Kumar's separation from UPA came as another blow.

He was joined by Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar and Akhilesh Yadav in UP which would have sent a positive message because people also need to see the tempo on the ground.

One must keep in mind that it is not enough that two parties decide to join hands in an election. If people don't trust your alliance, then the votes will never get transferred.

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi being felicitated at a public meeting in Amethi. Photograph: ANI Photo

Hasn't the seat sharing arrangement also come very late for the INDIA alliance?

It is very difficult for Opposition parties to make an alliance. Alliances are always challenging and include a trade off, but for an Opposition party that has been out of power for so long, it is all the more difficult.

The challenge for the Congress is that the regional parties have grown after displacing the Congress and are the Congress' main contenders in the respective states. There is a twin edged dilemma for the Congress and allies because if the Congress gets strong then the allies get weak.

That is the reason that the alliance has materialised in states where the Congress is at number 3 or 4 position like with the RJD and SP in Bihar and UP respectively.

The smaller parties are on slippery ground and may side with the party in power because that is where the benefits are.

IMAGE: RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and party leader Tejashwi Yadav, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechuri, CPI leader D Raja and others at the RJD's Jan Vishwas Maha Rally at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna, March 3, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Now that Sonia Gandhi is not contesting from Rae Bareily, do you think the Congress can retain this seat?

If Priyanka Gandhi or someone from the Gandhi family is in the fray, they will win. It is a seat that the Congress can win, but victory is not ensured if someone from the family does not contest.

How do you think the BJP, INDIA alliance and BSP will fare this time in UP?

The BJP's tally will increase. It will be a bipolar fight between the BJP and INDIA. As of now the fight is only on 5 to 7 seats.

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi and his sister Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Moradabad, February 24, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

What accounts for Mayawati's lack of interest in the election?

Speculation is that she is under pressure or that she wants to keep her Jatav flock intact, but the ground below her feet is already slipping away to the BJP.

Valmikis, Pasis and smaller Dalit communities have already shifted to the BJP. Maybe the BSP's 12% vote share will come down in this election.

SP and Congress have not been able to mobilise Dalits in UP. Like the Muslims, Dalits are also confused. They don't know whether to vote for the BJP or not.

Dalits who were a significant political player have actually vanished from the state. No party is talking about them. You don't hear that discourse anywhere.

Mayawati's vision and her politics have ended. Chandrshekhar Azad Ravan is doing his bit, but even today if Mayawati comes out on the street, the entire Dalit vote bank will consolidate behind her.

The Congress tried very hard to bring her into the alliance, but did not succeed.

People think the BJP's increase in seats will be because of the Ram Mandir, in fact it will be because of the decline of the BSP and inability of the Opposition to mobilise voters.

Mayawati will create a third front which will benefit the BJP.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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