Rahul Gandhi is sticking like a bone in BJP’s throat

PM Modi has no reasonable answers to Rahul Gandhi’s questions and his pedestrian retorts during the election campaign in Karnataka seem fuelled by a frustration that brings out the worst in him

Rahul Gandhi is sticking like a bone in BJP’s throat

Sujata Anandan

It is amusing to see how Narendra Modi and his sundry ministers try to challenge Congress president Rahul Gandhi and more often than not get ripped apart by social media. In a recent faux pas, Union Minister for Power Piyush Goyal’s best abuse was to call Gandhi a ‘dynast’ and set himself apart as a ‘kaamdaar', underscoring his qualification as a chartered accountant. As far as I know, Gandhi studied economics at Cambridge and was way ahead of the rest of us when he spoke of ‘escape velocity’ as a means for the rapid alleviation of poverty in the country. It is the fashionable term among western economists, but many in the BJP  had not heard of it before lampooning Gandhi for its usage.

But at the time Gandhi was studying economics, Goyal, a trained chartered accountant, was rubbing shoulders at the American Consulate in Mumbai with others from the American Alumni Association, who were mostly a bunch of children of the reigning politicians of the time including Milind Deora, son of then Mumbai Congress president Murli Deora. Goyal’s mother, Chandrakanta  Goyal, then was a MLA  in the Maharashtra assembly and his father was not just the treasurer of the BJP, but also a minister in the government  of Atal Behari Vajpayee. So his taunt now to Gandhi for having inherited his job from his mother somehow fails to strike deep, particularly as Goyal has inherited his own job as BJP treasurer from his father.

But the toothless barb does point to the shakiness of the BJP this election season in India. The BJP already seems on slippery  ground in Karnataka where elections are underway and Rahul Gandhi seems to be a sore point for all in the ruling dispensation at the centre, starting with Modi who had little better in terms of challenges to Gandhi except to hold up the example of dogs as patriots. Dogs could be loyal, but patriotic? Apart from the intended insult, it shows Modi has no reasonable answers to Gandhi and his pedestrian retorts seem fuelled by that frustration that brings out the worst—dare I say 'sadak chhaap'?—in him. And he returns to old bogeys that have been flogged to death.

Last week, Modi asked the Congress president if he could list the developmental statistics of Karnataka without reading from a paper in any language—Hindi, English or his mother tongue. For the first few seconds, one wondered if Modi was still targeting Sonia Gandhi, for Rahul should have no difficulty in speaking extempore in English or Hindi. And if by mother tongue, Modi meant to point towards the Italian origins of Rahul’s mother, well, the comment was simply boorish and of no consequence to Rahul Gandhi’s good show at recent elections in the country.

But, perhaps, Modi hopes it will have its impact in future, more particularly in 2019. Before that can happen, however, he must realise that Rahul Gandhi has shot far ahead of him in the matter of perception of sincerity and truth amid the constant chatter that we hear from the Congress president these days. Modi does not really seem to have a reply to Gandhi’s queries and is now under constant needling by social media to match his Congress rival measure for measure in terms of speaking, unscripted, to the media as Gandhi does, or even taking criticism as the Congress leader has been doing without losing his equilibrium or good humour. As for debating Gandhi for 15 minutes? Just forget that challenge. Modi does not have the courage for it.

But what now tickles my funny bone is how Modi seems to want to emulate Rahul Gandhi in a peculiarly inverse way. When he said last week he was an ordinary person who did not dress well, I was not only reminded of his monogrammed suits and Loro Piana jackets, but also of a recent criticism of Rahul Gandhi for being one of the most ill-dressed politicians in the country. As though the attire of politicians mattered much to the people, except when the suits cost ₹10 lakh as Modi’s did once upon a time

But there’s more. I do not think any opposition leader has been trolled as much as Rahul Gandhi or even been abused the way the Congress leader still is on social media. Although I did not see Gandhi ever play victim on account of that, Modi seems to want recognition as the most trolled and abused leader on social media. Which could be true of late, but never equal Gandhi’s victimisation by the BJP’s IT cell.  The Congress does lampoon Modi frequently these days but none of their barbs against Modi are half as vicious or downright malicious as that of BJP trolls towards the Gandhi family. Modi has called Sonia Gandhi a 'Jersey cow' and Rahul her 'hybrid calf', he has labelled Shashi Tharoor's late wife Sunanda Pushkar as 'fifty crore girl friend', and got personal many-a-times in political criticism, including towards former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who has now shot back at Modi for his low level barbs that do not glorify the office of the prime minister. Yet now Modi seems to relish the “stomach full of abuses" (as he said in London last month) he gets from people on social media.

It is obvious victimhood is his narrative but in all areas of this victimhood, why does one get the feeling he is competing with Rahul Gandhi to be the most trolled, abused or ill-dressed politician in the country? All the bad things rather than competing to be the informed, polite, refined and compassionate person that Gandhi comes across as these days? And after accusing Dr Manmohan Singh of conspiring with Pakistanis to defeat him in the Gujarat elections last year, when Modi brings up the  tearing up of an ordinance by Gandhi to protect criminal politicians from persecution as an insult to Dr Singh, Modi’s one-man  obsession is clear. Rahul Gandhi is sticking in his throat like a bone. He does not know if he can  gulp him down or even chew Gandhi alive and spit him out. Perhaps he should ask those patriotic dogs he lauds so much, they surely would have had much practice at chewing those bones.

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