As expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was able to easily shake off the challenge through the no confidence motion against his ministry in the Lok Sabha.
But what was unexpected for the ruling side was the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as the serious challenger to the Prime Minister, as the numero uno among the detractors of Modi.
The Prime Minister, wittingly or unwittingly, walked into the trap of the Congress, which wanted him to target their leader and trash him ferociously to shrewdly make him the tallest among the Opposition ranks when ambitions are growing among the regional leaders. While the likes of Mamata Banerjee have been seeking to downsize Rahul by dubbing him as much junior a player on the national scene, Modi made matters worse for them by hitting at the Congress president alone and treating them as “small change.”
What has been the biggest success of Rahul is that he has unsettled the Prime Minister by seeking to remove the fear about him among the BJP MPs. It needed to be seen to be believed in Parliament house how a section of the ruling party members was in glee over the Congress attack on the Prime Minister and were seen praising Rahul privately. Rahul’s remarks in the Lok Sabha telling the BJP members “not to be afraid of” (daro mat) has gone home. It was “jor ka jhatka dheere se lage”.
The game for the Lok Sabha polls has begun and unsourced reports that the BJP planned to cut tickets of 150 of their 282 members, has helped those in the ruling party who feel that they could be in firing line of Modi-Amit Shah, to seek greener pastures. The process has already begun in right earnest with some incumbents even busy strategising on how best to corner BJP.
BJP’s actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who is not enamoured of Modi-Shah, while voting against the no confidence motion, made it plain “For the time being my vote is here, rest for 2019 elections....” “Yeh kahani phir kabhi”. The only thing is that others are not that frank and articulate like the Patliputra MP. The reasons are obvious.
Some of those who closely followed the debate remarked, rightly or wrongly, that BJP veteran L. K. Advani sat through the entire debate but was not once seen to be thumping the desk. Another veteran Murli Manohar Joshi was not seen in the House for quite some time showed the enthusiasm or otherwise of the old guard completely and fully sidelined by Modi-Shah.
“Modi-fied” news channels and media may be claiming that the Prime Minister has won the game lock, stock and barrel, but this may be an over exaggeration, to say it mildly. The proof of the pudding was for all there to see the next morning of the no confidence motion.
“Rahul Gandhi’s Jaadu ki zappi to Modi:Brother, you have won us over” (Rahul Gandhi yanchi Modi na jaadu ki zappi:Bhava, jinkles), screamed the headline in Marathi in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece of Samana, while giving the news of the proceedings in the Lower House. It carried a photograph of the Congress president hugging the Prime Minister.
Sena, which is the second largest party in the NDA having 18 members in the Lok Sabha, had abstained from voting in the crucial vote despite Modi-Shah launching herculean efforts to win it over and claims of BJP’s floor managers till the last minute, indicating that “the deal has been done.” To say it plainly, it is getting abundantly clear that the foundations of the NDA are shaky, at least in Maharashtra at the moment.
Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP was the third largest party in the NDA till a few months back and was now the mover of the no confidence motion, signals hard days ahead for the BJP at least in Andhra Pradesh unless some miracle happens. Besides, the failure of the Prime Minister to ask either Sushma Swaraj or Nitin Gadkari to participate in the debate tells the story that all is not well in the government. Apart from the Prime Minister, Sushma and Gadkari alone have the skills to take the battle to the opposition camp and not Rajnath Singh.
Poor Rakesh Singh, who opened the innings for the BJP appeared to have virtually read out the speech prepared by the Prime Minister as Modi was seen satisfied over his hour-long performance, which was seen as dull and drab by several others.
The same applied to the long speech by Modi. Ramachandra Guha put the nail right on the head through his tweet that “The Prime Minister was known to be a brilliant orator but this is a dreadfully dull speech. It is the political equivalent of Sachin Tendulkar choosing to bat like Geoffrey Boycott.”
How much a continued attack on the Gandhi-Nehru family would pay dividends in the future election is a debatable point. The grand old party has already been punished and punished hard for the omissions and commissions and scams and scandals in the ten-year long UPA rule. What has been unsaid and deliberately overlooked by the Modi bhakts was the issue of Rafale aircraft purchase, raised by Rahul and debunked by the Prime Minister as also the defence minister.
Those who had seen the days after the Bofors kickback controversy surfaced in 1987, would know how the Rajiv Gandhi government became an embattled entity after the Swedish Radio broadcast despite the Congress having an unprecedented 400 plus numbers in the Lok Sabha.
If one thought that the statements from the French government and the Modi dispensation have cleared the matter, such was not the case as Rahul has stuck to his guns.
During the debate on the motion, Gandhi had alleged foul play saying the deal for the 36 Rafale fighters signed during PM Modi’s visit to France in 2016 was more expensive than the deal negotiated by the previous UPA government and an industrialist has benefitted by thousands of crores at the cost of the state-owned HAL.
Coming days and months would show how Congress under Rahul and the opposition get their act together given the fact that the debate on the motion is virtually a start of the campaign of the number of state polls as also the Lok Sabha elections.
It is said that ‘consistency is the virtue of an ass as also a genius’. Rahul Gandhi, who had been derided as “pappu” by the Modi bhakts for long, has the golden opportunity to become ‘pole star’ of the opposition if he maintains constant line and length on the political pitch to bowl out the ruling side.
Modi and Shah are the hardest working politicians in present day India. They are different. Jadu ki zappi is good for propaganda, but practical politics is a different thing. Claiming that the Congress along with other opposition parties would unitedly drive the BJP out of power is one thing, but the real issue is whether Rahul would walk the talk.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi...