Targeting young voters
In the first major address as the Congress President in the party's ongoing plenary session, Rahul Gandhi on Sunday launched a scathing attack on BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. Amid claims that he will be the next Prime Minister of India, Rahul Gandhi said that Prime Minister Modi's name is synonymous with corruption and non-performance. He also called shah a murder accused. Reacting sharply to Gandhi's remarks, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed his speech 'rhetoric of a loser'. Starting with Sonia Gandhi, all the speakers at Congress plenary including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Finance Minister P Chidambram attacked BJP and the Prime Minister over a range of issues. The remarkable thing about the Congress leaders' speeches is that they have suddenly become all the more arrogant and churlish, indicating that there would be an all-out war of words between the Congress and the BJP now that the general election is only about a year away. Rahul Gandhi also made a pitch for young leaders by saying that the wall between the party workers and the party leaders need to be demolished. The sudden rise in confidence among Congress leaders come in the backdrop of BJP losing by-elections in a number of politically important states including West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. The latest by-election results from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh suggest that caste alliances can work in favour of the Opposition and it will not be easy for BJP to win elections and come to power purely on saffron agenda. These results also suggest that regional parties are slowly firming up their grip on their states. In the latest such indication, Maharashtra Navnirman Party chief Raj Thackeray on Sunday called upon opposition parties to unite and work for Modi-mukt India. Thackeray had a meeting with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar early last week. Pawar had earlier met Rahul Gandhi as well. From Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh, regional parties are increasingly consolidating their presence and forging alliances with anti-BJP forces. The opposition line-up that includes Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Sharad Pawar and Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra, Chandrabau Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana and Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar looks formidable. After TDP pulled out of NDA and is ready to move a no-confidence motion against the Modi government, the BJP looks at the specter of having a weaker NDA fighting a united opposition. However, the NDA's victory in the 2014 elections was more a victory of BJP than the NDA as the saffron party had won the majority on its own.
In 2014, Modi had given a call to make India Congress-mukt and the voters had voted in favour of him, reducing the Congress to its lowest ever tally of seats in Lok Sabha. In a recent interview, Modi had clarified that by Congress-mukt India, he had not meant the end of the party but he meant the end of the Congress culture of corruption and middleman. Now the opposition is clamouring for Modi-mukt India and by that, they mean the end of the BJP rule. Taking a leaf from Modi's clarification, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has said that Modi government is synonymous with corruption and non-performance. Citing the examples of corruption against the Modi government, he has accused the Prime Minister of colluding with top businessmen and helping them leave the country even though they owed public sector banks thousands of crores of rupees. And, the anti-BJP sentiments in a number of large states as shown by by-election results can be attributed to voters in these states feeling neglected by the Modi government as few development projects were sanctioned for these states during the Modi regime. Elections in 2014 saw BJP winning all or most of seats in some states including Rajasthan and Maharashtra. If the opposition wins Lok Sabha seats in similar fashion in 2019, BJP will surely be in deep trouble. The BJP will surely respond to opposition's blame of corruption and non-performance in due course. However, the state of the economy which determines how much the government can invest in different states in development projects is satisfactory at the moment. In past few years, when the crude oil prices were low and the country needed to spend less on its oil bill, the government was able to rein in inflation and spend more on development projects. But the young population in the country, which forms the majority, wants results more expeditiously. And it is the young voters that all major parties are trying to tap. The consolidation of opposition parties ahead of 2019 general elections and a prominent role of Rahul Gandhi suggest that the opposition parties are aiming their speeches at young voters. BJP would do better to focus on tapping on young voters than responding to opposition's diatribe against the Modi government.