There is a pattern in the BJP’s targeting of Rahul Gandhi. While the latter can be accused of awkward phrases or poorly formulated arguments, he does not make offensive or ad hominem attacks. The same cannot be said about BJP leaders, who up their game when it comes to targeting him. Even on occasions when Gandhi has not said anything, a provocative statement such as the one by Narendra Modi asking why Rahul Gandhi does not use the Nehru surname inevitably has the effect of dragging the Gandhis and the Congress into the discourse.
The singling out of Gandhi is peculiar. He does not hold any office in the Congress and until his disqualification was just a Member of Parliament. He did not campaign in any of the recent Assembly elections, though Priyanka Gandhi did. On several occasions, both he and the Congress have dissociated the Bharat Jodo Yatra from any electoral purpose, although there was broad consensus that the march energised the Congress rank and file. It is possible that this response rattled the BJP.
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Gandhi adopted a combative attitude in Parliament on the Hindenburg report. Did the BJP see his assertiveness as a threat? Is the targeting meant to nip it in the bud? Political observers say the BJP may have overdone the tirade—expunging his speeches, insisting he cannot speak unless he apologises for remarks made in the UK, and projecting him as anti-OBC. In the process, it seems to have inadvertently promoted a degree of opposition unity not seen before.
The tactic of pitching Modi against Gandhi works to the BJP’s advantage and is useful for Modi’s own image among the middle classes and the nouveau riche. It also undermines the non-Congress opposition, rendering it inconsequential.
- With its relentless targeting of Rahul Gandhi, the BJP wants to make Gandhi the face of the opposition even though he is not.
- Conveying the perception that the 2024 election is between Modi and Gandhi is an optical binary that suits the BJP.
- The challenge for the opposition will be to ignore the red herrings and focus on broader issues and the policy failures of the BJP-led government.
With its relentless focus, the BJP wants to make Gandhi the face of the opposition even though he is not. Conveying the perception that the 2024 election is between Modi and Gandhi is an optical binary that suits the BJP. The electorate is reminded that Modi was chosen over Gandhi in both 2014 and 2019 and that nothing needs to be different this time. It also works because it obfuscates the many policy failures of the BJP at the Centre.
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The Bharat Jodo Yatra shored up Rahul Gandhi’s image as a leader who can be taken seriously. The Congress organisational election made Mallikarjun Kharge party president. Kharge is an old war horse with vast experience in electoral and organisational politics. These are two moves that would not have pleased the BJP.
The BJP refrains from attacking Kharge because he is Dalit, but repeatedly projects the Congress as anti-OBC. It is likely to exploit this sentiment right up to the 2024 election, even though two Congress Chief Ministers, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, are from the OBC community.
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The challenge for the opposition will be to ignore the red herrings and focus on broader issues and the policy failures of the BJP-led government. The more the opposition projects Gandhi as a victim of vendetta politics, the better the BJP’s chances for projecting him as the only alternative the opposition has.
The BJP can be defeated, as was seen in the recent Himachal Pradesh election. And in the just-concluded elections in the north-eastern States too, barring Tripura, the BJP came to power with alliance partners and not on its own steam.