If nothing else then Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification has served one purpose and that is to bring the opposition parties together on one plank. Of course there is still a year to go before the General Elections and a lot can happen till then but in the short term, parties that could not see eye to eye with the Congress are now on board, marching together and dining together. It is not as if Rahul Gandhi has suddenly become the acceptable face of the opposition fight against Narendra Modi. But, other opposition leaders do see some merit in all that he symbolises and have rallied around to make a political cause. They are fighting for free speech, the spirit of democracy and the misuse of institutions – all these factors are symbolised in the Rahul Gandhi disqualification. There is an underlying irony here that soon after, one of his allies, Uddhav Thackeray, boycotted the Congress President’s dinner because of Rahul’s comments against Veer Savarkar. Guess even a battle for free speech has its boundaries.
However, given the fact that Uddhav’s party is one with whom the Congress has an existing tie- up, perhaps Rahul could have been more diplomatic about his statements. In politics you have to take everyone along and that comes with its own compromises and consensus building. Rahul seems to have realised that the need of the hour is greater unity and it was decided at the meeting to stay off such remarks in the future and to take everyone along. Sonia Gandhi also spoke of the fact that the time for one upmanship is over and opposition parties will have to put up a united front.
Whether this translates into a pre-poll or a post-poll alliance is another debate. While it would be difficult for the Opposition to figure out a please-all seat sharing arrangement for a pre-poll alliance there is one inherent advantage in this – incase of a hung assembly the President of India gives the first option of government formation to the largest party or the largest pre-poll alliance. Since there is a strong chance that the BJP will remain the single largest party (if it doesnt cross 272) then it would be given the first chance at government formation. And the President’s invite is an allure that finds many supporters.
These are some of the calculations the opposition, specially the Congress is grappling with. But given the trajectory of Rahul’s politics, the disqualification could be worked in his favour for it takes away some of his ‘sheen of pedigree and privilege’ that the BJP always taunts him with; it also brings a shade of ‘victimisation’ that both Modi and Arvind Kejriwal use in their politics.
Can Rahul work this to his political advantage or will he score a self goal. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, seems better equipped both in terms of rhetoric and gravitas to reach out to the public at large, for her speech post the disqualification has gone viral on whats app groups and social media. Priyanka was not apologetic about her family lineage, rather she used it to emphasize her family’s commitment to nationalism and nation building.
And, while Rahul’s press conference began well, initially he stayed on message and made the issue about censorship of his comments on Adani, but midway the former Congress President got into a petty tangle with a reporter which could have been avoided. In the end, the comment most played up after this press conference was Rahul’s take down of a reporter rather than the larger one on free speech and the Modi-Adani nexus. Priyanka’s speech, however, went viral for all the right reasons.
It’s a long road to 2024 and one that’s throwing up a lot of interesting questions, for as Manish Tewari commented on Cover Story (NewsX) – this is much larger than Rahul Gandhi. Can the Congress make the disqualification into a larger statement on free speech and democratic values? It is now up to the Opposition to communicate this to the public at large and strike a chord that cuts into the emotional bond the PM has with the people of India. That’s not going to be easy; but that is the fight for 2024.