After ‘embrace of love’, India’s Rahul Gandhi throws another gambit at Modi’s BJP

S. N. M. Abdi
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After jolting Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a surprise hug in Parliament, India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called it the “embrace of love” for his political adversary.

But, ironically, the hug of love seems to have somehow awakened Congress Party President Gandhi’s killer instincts and steeled his determination to wrest power from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s general elections.


Even as the fall-out of last week’s hug is being dissected across India, Gandhi has made a stunning announcement that has sent the BJP into a huddle. Instead of hankering after the top post, he has pledged to support any “non-RSS-backed Prime Minister in 2019” – a move lauded by analysts as a game-changer.

RSS is the acronym for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the all-powerful mother Hindu right-wing organization which floated the BJP as its political wing to contest elections. As the RSS virtually runs the BJP, a “non-RSS-backed PM” means a non-BJP premier.

Decks cleared

By foregoing his claim to the top post, Gandhi has cleared the decks for leaders like Mulayam Singh (Samajwadi Party), Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Naveen Patnaik (Biju Janata Dal) and M. Karunanidhi (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) to aspire to become the PM.

Prime ministership is a mouth-watering proposition and a big incentive for regional leaders to pull out all stops to bring down the BJP by any means fair or foul. Opposition unity too is a must because the division of non-BJP votes had swept the BJP to power in 2014.

Apparently, Gandhi’s strategy is to ensure that the Congress Party wins around 150 seats and the non-BJP opposition parties bag another 150 to secure a comfortable majority in the 545-member Lok Sabha in order to dislodge the BJP from power.

And to achieve his goal, Gandhi has cleverly stepped aside to forge opposition unity crucial for stopping the BJP juggernaut. His prime objective is to defeat the BJP by strengthening the anti-BJP front. Hence the bait of prime ministership to regional leaders to stay focused to give their best in the coming elections.

Rahul Gandhi waves to supporters during a rally ahead of Gujarat state assembly elections, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on November 11, 2017. (Reuters)
Rahul Gandhi waves to supporters during a rally ahead of Gujarat state assembly elections, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on November 11, 2017. (Reuters)

Improving performance

“Having been reduced to 40-odd seats and an 18 per cent vote share [in 2014)”, says Suhas Palshikar, chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics, “the Congress can only improve its performance but that will in no way mean a dramatic turnaround.”

“The Congress today cannot pose an electoral challenge to the BJP on its own, nor can it pose an ideological challenge to the BJP. It has this become incumbent on Gandhi to take the initiative and yet be prepared for compromises, including on the question of leadership of the coalition.”

Although Gandhi has given the go-ahead to regional leaders to aim for the top job, there is a distinct possibility of squabbling satraps ultimately pleading with Gandhi to lead the non-BJP coalition as PM in the event of a BJP rout.

Before the do-or-die general elections crucial for Congress comeback, state legislative assembly polls are due in three BJP-ruled states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. While Congress would like to fight the Rajasthan battle single-handedly, the other two will be a test case for opposition unity.

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