Rahul Gandhi’s activism after demonetisation has given sleepless nights to Narendra Modi, so much that he does not mind losing the grace of a Prime Minister while attacking the Vice President of the Congress party. The words Modi used, the movements of his hands, and his facial expressions when he delivered public speeches in last few meetings are a clear indication of how frustrated he is over a drastically failed experiment which has destroyed the pace of Indian economy and has boomeranged on the poll prospects of Bhartiya Janta Party.
Political leaders in their public speeches mock their opponents but never has any Prime Minister stooped to such levels. Rahul, on the other hand, has shown maturity and grace in public life when he strongly advised the crowd in one of his public meetings not to raise abusive slogans against Narendra Modi because “he is our Prime Minister”. But we did not find Modi behaving with similar sobriety and he chose to make comments on Rahul’s style of speaking and mimic it. We have seen Modi deeply enjoying sadistic pleasure while ridiculing his political rivals during his public speeches when he was not the Prime Minister. The saddest part of the story is that he has not grown a bit in two and a half years of his office and is going to the lowest possible discourse in India’s public life.
Rahul, on the contrary, has emerged as a more mature, sober, well-meaning, and responsible leader after May 2014. His speeches are now more expressive, rich in content, and his body language emanates the sincerity required to reach to the hearts of common people. Rahul makes his views known to the people in a more balanced way now and is dignified in public discourse presenting him as much more solemn than Narendra Modi, who is 20 years elder to him in age and occupying the highest chair of the largest democracy in the world.
Modi knows that he is trapped between the devil and the deep sea after he demonetised currency overnight. He is finding new ways every day for turning the tail. He realises that he cannot even blame his tools as he was the sole architect of this economic disaster and never took any of his experienced colleagues in confidence who could have cautioned him to consider all the aspects before announcing such a move at whims. It is not in Modi’s spirit to accept the fact that half knowledge is always dangerous and one must take advice whenever in doubt. Constantly hackled by public opinion at large and even by Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, its affiliates, Cabinet colleagues, ally parties and right wing economists in private, Modi finds himself in a peculiar situation which is taking a toll on him. As a result, his public performance has lost sheen in past seven weeks. Thin attendance in Modi’s public meetings and the large crowds in Rahul’s rallies has made RSS leadership worried and BJP MPs desperate.
The indications from poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttarakhand are a nightmare for BJP. On way to 2019, Modi will have to pass tests in other states also including his home state Gujarat. The crowd that gathered for Rahul Gandhi’s public rally at Mehasana in Gujarat has been the topic of serious discussion among the senior leaders of RSS and BJP who know it better than Modi how events overturn even the best-laid plans. They are of the opinion that 2019 is not going to be a cakewalk like 2014 and the electoral fight between Modi nearing 70 and Rahul touching 49 will have its difficult terrain for BJP.
Those who had doubts about the fire in Rahul’s belly now realise that they have been proven wrong. He is milder and conciliatory but when it comes to taking things to their logical conclusion, his toughness cares for no boundaries. His progression has been glacial but now the heat generated from his presence is felt everywhere. I remember the days when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister at the age of 40 and the general opinion about him was that he is not a natural leader. But within less than a year after taking over the reins of the country, Rajiv mastered the art of politick. Similar clouds of doubts surrounded Rahul Gandhi until a few years back. But the zeal and commitment with which he is putting in his efforts to infuse new life to his party has opened the eyes of many.
Rahul would have played with much more self-confidence had he taken the advice of his well-wishers more seriously in 2009 to join the Union Cabinet. At Rahul’s age today, Rajiv Gandhi had been Prime Minister for five years, faced huge problems such as defection of Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Arun Singh, and Arun Nehru. He had carried out difficult negotiations in Sri Lanka, Assam, Mizoram, and Punjab. He had countered fierce media attacks over Bofors conspiracy. The ups and downs had transformed Rajiv in such a way that when he refused to form the government and sit in opposition in 1989 despite Congress having the single largest majority, Rajiv could perform as a tremendously effective opposition leader. By any measure, Rahul’s performance in opposition for past two and a half year, without having any direct experience of Constitutional positions, is highly commendable.
Modi deliberately managed a Rahul-versus-him battle in 2014. But now the dreadfulness of similar thought for 2019 is bewildering him. No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude. Being the Prime Minister of India is a heavy load to carry. One needs a broad mind and a heart apart from broad shoulders to pull the wheels of democracy with a grace. To lead a diverse and ancient country such as India one requires much more than skills of mocking and mimicking.
(The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India.Views are strictly personal.)