Rahul Gandhi has said two things in recent days that reveal that his advisors spend more time in Delhi drawing rooms than among ‘the poor’ whom he claims so passionately to represent. The first is his charge that Narendra Modi is not a ‘chowkidar’ but a ‘thief’. The second is his demand for a ‘new freedom movement’ to get rid of Modi. Having just spent many hours listening to what poor, rural Indians think about politics and politicians, I can report that nobody I met believes ‘desh ka chowkidar chor hai’. For the benefit of those of you without comprehension of basic Hindi, this translates as ‘the man who claims to be this country’s guard is a thief’.
The Congress president likes repeating often sentences that he thinks are specially clever. So as he once did with ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ he is presently doing with ‘desh ka chowkidar chor hai’. If he, or his advisors, were really having conversations with poor, rural voters, they would know that it is hard to meet anyone who thinks Modi is personally corrupt. In the conversations I have recently had on my rural travels, the one constant is that people think of Modi as a man who is working very hard (‘night and day’ are the words they use) to make India a better place. Even those who are currently unhappy about the lack of jobs and the rising prices of petrol and diesel say they do not blame Modi for this. Even those who speak of local BJP leaders being corrupt, hastily add that they do not blame Modi for this. So nobody is likely to join a ‘freedom movement’ to rid India of Modi.
If I had any doubts that Rahul Gandhi’s advisors spend their time lounging about in the salons of Lutyens Delhi, they disappeared when I heard him speak at last week’s Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. He said many things that sounded as if he was confused, ignorant and undecided, but his comment on what his policy would be towards Pakistan was truly noteworthy.
His policy if he ever becomes prime minister is to treat Pakistan ‘as a special neighbour’. Not an exporter of jihadi terrorism to India? Not someone that blames India for exporting terrorism across its border? Just a special neighbour? The Congress president has not understood the national mood when it comes to our oldest enemy. The spread of smartphones has made rural people surprisingly aware of what is going on in the world. Some years ago the name Mani Shankar Aiyar would have been unknown in rural northern India. Now they know he went to Pakistan and spoke against Modi.They said they were disgusted that Congress leaders could talk like this when Indian soldiers are being beheaded on our borders. They believe (rightly or wrongly) that Modi has taken a tough stand with Pakistan. They believe dialogue is useless with the Islamic Republic till it stops exporting jihadi terrorists to India. They also said that one of the things they liked about Modi was that he had ‘enhanced India’s esteem in the eyes of the world’.
Not long ago I quoted in this column the remarks of a senior BJP leader, who said that the reason they were sure Modi would be prime minister again next year was because Rahul was ‘such a goof’. I thought he was being overly optimistic, but now I am no longer so sure. An exceptional example of extreme goofiness is to call for a ‘freedom movement’ to rid India of Modi. In saying this, the man who is president of the party that led this freedom movement demeaned the long struggle for freedom and also showed that he has not understood that India is a democracy that has always held regular elections. All that needs to be done to ‘rid India of Modi’ is to defeat him in the Lok Sabha election that is due in six months. The Congress president said again at the Leadership Summit that he would be happy to become prime minister if the chance came his way. Before saying this again he would do well to pay attention to what his ally Mayawati said last week. In the strongest possible words, she said that the Congress party had not lost its ‘arrogance’ even after losing power.
A harsh assessment but true. After coming down to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha you would expect there to have been serious analysis of what has gone wrong with India’s oldest and once most powerful political party. This has not happened yet. So whenever senior Congress leaders comment on the humiliating defeat in 2014 they blame it on Modi having ‘marketed’ himself better than they were able to. They will have to do better than this if they want their ‘clown prince’ to become prime minister.