Rahul Gandhi has spoken in public three times in the last three days. That is unusual. However, on each occasion — be it in rural Bihar on the campaign trail on Saturday, in Delhi, Sunday, at a farmers’ rally, or Monday in the temple town of Mathura in the politically key state of Uttar Pradesh, his focus has been the same: an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In Bihar’s Champaran, a Congress rally to mark the 125 birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar turned into a meet to kickstart the party’s campaign for the assembly elections, Rahul, surprisingly, did not talk about his allies Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad Yadav, both of whom skipped his function and sent nominees instead. The entire speech was focused on Modi, his friends and the promises he had not kept.
Rahul’s `suit-boot’ routine did not change at the Ram Lila Grounds address on Sunday either. Similarly, on Monday in Mathura he did not attack or for that matter speak about the ruling Samajwadi Party and the BSP. He focused on the Congress organization, sending out a message of unity. Even then, he did not forget to attack the Prime Minister.
So is this obsession with Modi part of a well-thought out strategy or is he simply taking him on because he is the face of the BJP and its government? Will this campaign, seen as negative by many, pay off politically and electorally, now or in the long run? The Congress thinks it will work.
Interestingly, there had been a debate in the Congress during the UPA II years on whether or not to attack Modi. An influential section in the Congress argued that Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, should not be given too much prominence by being targetted. They feared attacking him constantly would propel him to the national, political centre stage and the focus of the debate. Another section argued that his claims of Gujarat shining should be countered. The debate was never settled.
Today, the party is not that divided. The majority of the leaders agree that Modi should be the target of the Congress attack. His promises to the electorate should be recalled and compared with his government’s performance. They argue that his charisma is on the wane and the Congress should never take its eyes off him.
However, Rahul’s with his `suit-boot’ line of attack is repeating himself far too often. He is pursuing a negative campaign. For instance, he forgot to elaborate on what the Grand Alliance or the Congress would do for the people in Bihar– what would be its agenda of governance? Congress leaders argue Modi and his government have not come out with any fresh policy direction for which the Congress had to present an alternative course.
“They have only messed up. Be it the economy or foreign policy. So it is obvious that there will be criticism. They have tried to destroy institutions, erase the memories of national icons, rewrite history. Where is the positive agenda? So criticism will be there,” said a senior Congress leader who is also a CWC member.
In fact, the reason for his attack on Modi was put bluntly by Rahul himself at his Mathura rally. He said Modi will go down because he has not kept his promises. “But when he will go down, the Congress should be in a position to occupy that space. This should be our work,” he said.
As far as Rahul is concerned, he sees the Congress as the automatic beneficiary of a BJP slide.