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Rahul’s New Political Innings Marked By Shrewd Strategies! | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Saturday 22 June 2024, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

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July 3, 2024

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has begun his new political innings as Leader of the Opposition in newly elected Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on a fiery note sending strong messages in several directions. Of which, the most crucial is that directed at the party in power, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rahul has definitely acted extremely shrewdly by choosing to begin with by using a “religious” card targeting BJP members. Not surprisingly, this beginning has been marked by there being virtually a verbal duel between him, his party and BJP-stalwarts over his comments on the latter’s “religious” standing. His attempt to show picture of a Hindu deity was stopped by the Speaker on ground that placards cannot be displayed. However, the cameras did succeed in taking the key shots with the picture in his hand which have of course reached the public. Irrespective of whether he could actually “show” the picture for just a little while, his primary mission was accomplished. That of his asserting his belief in and respect for Hindu deities. This was followed by his pronouncing ethics and values such as peace and non-violence which Hindu Lord Shiva promoted. Rahul was trying to show his picture. Rahul moved on to talk about similar values promoted by other religions practiced in India, including Islam, Sikhism and Christianity. Subsequently, he questioned the ruling party’s “religious” stature by openly stating that it could not claim to represent all Hindus. BJP’s political strength, as is well known, rests primarily on the use and display of its religious card, with great emphasis laid by its leaders on their “Hindutva”-card. Electoral results may be viewed as having projected voters’ decision not to give much importance to such religious rhetoric of BJP.

Undeniably, the number of seats’ won by Congress and its allies give greater credence to limited impact of BJP’s religious card. This is further supported by BJP having won lesser number of seats in Uttar Pradesh (UP) than Samajwadi Party (SP) and having lost the Faizabad seat to SP, the site of grand Ayodhya temple. Evidently, Rahul is politically convinced of the limited socio-political appeal of the manner in which BJP has played its religious card. Not surprisingly, Rahul has deftly begun this innings by display of his “religious” card, but from a totally different platform than used by BJP to promote its political interests. The anti-Muslim as well as communal angle targeting several sections cannot be de-linked from use of so-called religious card by certain right-winged factions. Rahul, it seems, has made the extra-effort to project multi-religious nature of Indian secularism. It is apparently his way of communicating to those around him and people at large, that one can be religious as well as secular without being communal, that is by targeting other religious communities. This only indicates that Rahul is well aware that religion bears a lot of importance for Indians at large. He has also been apparently a keen observer of the manner in which it has been used, exploited as well as abused by certain leaders and parties for primarily political gains. It seems Rahul is also fairly well aware of the limited electoral impact of “religious” strategies’ communal designs as well as their negative result.

It may be noted, by questioning BJP leaders’ religious “claim,” Rahul has openly stated that they cannot be viewed as representatives of the entire Hindu community. This point, interestingly, has been repeatedly asserted by this scribe, since demolition of the Babri Masjid. The ones engaged in demolition did not represent all Hindus of the country. Similarly, if a Muslim, Sikh, a Black or any other person indulges in any militant activity, it would be erroneous to label his/her entire community as terrorist. Where Rahul’s comment is concerned, till date, such a stand has not been taken so assertively, fearlessly and so openly by him or any other important politician. It may have been expressed in various circles and maybe in writings but the fact that it has been made at this juncture bears its own significance.
The “fear” and/or “apprehension” which probably has restrained many from expressing such a stand has apparently ceased to prevail considerably. BJP’s failure to win a majority and opposition parties’ success in giving it a good fight has contributed significantly to Rahul and probably many others to become more assertive in expressing their stand against “religious” rhetoric with communal designs. That BJP is in power because of support of allies also indicates that the party and its key leader – Narendra Modi- no longer command the dominance which they earlier had. Besides, the common Indian has become strongly conscious of the need for their religion not to be mixed with politics. If this was not the case, the manner in which BJP-stalwarts, particularly Prime Minister Modi seemed to go overboard in displaying their religious moves would probably have played a greater part in helping them win more seats. But that did not happen. And this has probably made Rahul more confident of playing his “religious” card from a secular angle, by laying emphasis on its peaceful as well as non-violent nature and using the same to target political rivals.

The shrewd manner in which Rahul has played this card is also suggestive of his hoping to pull apart the “religious” looks donned by his key rivals. The main issue is not whether they continue their “religious” exercises or not. Rahul’s primary aim is probably targeted to indulge in strategies which lead people to cease accepting BJP’s politico-religious drive. Undeniably, if Indian voters had not already started practicing this move, 2024 electoral results may have been different. This also suggests, Rahul’s confidence in this “religious” card’s appeal for the people also prompted him to begin this political innings by using it in this manner. It has certainly helped him gain considerable media coverage and publicity.

It may be recalled in latter part of 2020, around 23 party members had written to Sonia Gandhi questioning Rahul’s leadership as “ineffective” and so forth. It would be erroneous to assume that Rahul has forgotten that phase of his political career. This also suggests that Rahul has begun this innings as a much stronger politician than he was earlier viewed as with his eyes set on apparently targeting quite a few of his adversaries, with the key one being of course the main political rival of Congress and its allies.

A lot may next be decided not just by Rahul’s moves but also how allies and rivals of Congress play their cards. On his part, Rahul has begun his new political innings with a shrewd political strategy, targeting his rivals on the very ground they seemed confident of being in almost total command of. At present, they certainly seem shaken on the very ground, they thought they had complete control of. True, BJP’s dismal performance in UP cannot be ignored, which is probably also responsible for Rahul choosing to be more assertive in his deft as well as shrewd stand against BJP!

(Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006))

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