Last week the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India was seething over Rahul Gandhi — yet again. This time, over a series of comments the Congress MP made on the state of Indian democracy while in the UK.
A spokesperson for the BJP, Shehzad Poonawalla, asserted that the Congress leader is a ‘politically immature and politically irrelevant entity’.
And yet, it is this supposed “irrelevant entity” that top BJP leaders have been obsessively attacking for several years, making him very relevant in the process.
What is it about Rahul Gandhi that gets under the BJP’s skin? Clearly, many of the issues Rahul Gandhi raises hit a raw nerve with the BJP, which has often deployed multiple ministers to rebut what he has said. But there’s another reason too — it suits the BJP to pitch electoral battles as a Modi vs Rahul fight, in which Modi has a clear advantage.
And what would the BJP do if it didn’t have the “enemy” of the Gandhi family to constantly attack in public discourse? The fact is the BJP needs Rahul Gandhi and in the process they are also making him more than relevant.
The BJP’s attack on the Congress leaders goes back many years. The infamous IT cell of the party spent considerable energy and effort painting Rahul as the “Pappu” of Indian politics.
It’s a derogatory reference that was repeated only a few days ago by the Law Minister who tweeted “ the people of India know Rahul Gandhi is a Pappu ... his anti India statements are misused by anti India forces to tarnish the image of India”.
Was Rahul’s attack justified?
That comes to the next part of the current debate. Was Rahul Gandhi’s attack on the Modi government justified on foreign soil? First things first. Being anti government is not the same as being anti India.
BJP government is not the country. The Law Minister knows this but we live in times where half truths and untruths are constantly peddled by those who should know better.
Ideally, domestic political battles are best fought at home. Not when political leaders are travelling abroad. So Rahul Gandhi could have avoided making his UK trip only about attacking the Modi government.
On a separate note, there is also the issue of whether such attacks on everything that Rahul Gandhi perceives as wrong under the Modi government will work for the Congress politically. Is there an alternative, positive forward looking vision that Rahul is offering, especially to the youth?
There is a precedent
However, this is also not the first time a political attack on rival parties has been made on foreign soil. The Prime Minister himself repeatedly attacked previous Congress governments on foreign soil since 2014 during his big rallies with the Indian diaspora.
Sadly, the general consensus that Indian politicians would be united on foreign policy and keep domestic politics out of foreign tours, has long vanished.
Rahul Gandhi has come a long way as a politician but he is not a match for Modi at the moment. The Gandhis may have a fan base within their own party, but many voters find them entitled and disconnected with reality.
That has been a primary reason for the party’s declining fortunes since 2014. Which makes the BJP’s obsessive attacks against Rahul Gandhi all the more surprising.
But the BJP also knows that pitching Modi against Rahul is a good bet for them. Which is why the attacks on the Congress MP will only increase in the run up to 2024.