Rahul Gandhi is in Surat, Gujarat today. He is likely to move a plea in the sessions court to set aside the Magistrate order convicting him in a defamation case. More than six years ago, I wrote a column explaining that Rahul Gandhi needs one electoral success to be India’s, Justin Trudeau. Though that electoral success is yet to come, India’s political class has already accepted Rahul Gandhi as the only secular alternative against the majoritarian nationalist ideology in India.
The Congress Party has been India’s principal opposition party for nine years, and Rahul Gandhi is its tallest leader. In any other democratic political landscape, there wouldn’t have been any confusion over who should lead the country if the party in power gets defeated in the election. But, since the 2014 election, India’s politics and political discourse are not normal. Rahul Gandhi has been the primary voice of opposition to the present government. Whether it is demonetisation or GST, Land Bill or Farm Laws, Abrogation of Article 370 or Citizenship Amendment Bill, Rafale Deal or Hindenburg papers on Adani, the pandemic or job crisis, Rahul Gandhi has always been at the forefront of taking the government to task.
Unlike many other opposition leaders, his criticisms of what he thinks are wrong government policies have never been diluted due to fear of being branded by the ruling party leaders and pro-government media as ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘anti-majority’. At the same time, as expected, he has been the main target of attacks from the party in power, its supporters, and its controlled media. Dozens of cases have been filed against him in different parts of India. He was the only national-level politician whose phone was allegedly being tapped using military-grade snooping software. The ruling party’s social media cell has used all sorts of means to denigrate him in any manner possible. He has never made any political deal with the people now in power. Though Rahul Gandhi remains their prime target, the governing machinery simultaneously has manufactured an impression that he lacks the political acumen and stature to compete successfully with its leadership. This tactic of people in power primarily builds a TINA (there is no alternative) factor in helping their political domination.
However, many political commentators in India have also fallen into this trap knowingly or unknowingly. They keep questioning whether Rahul Gandhi was willing and determined to be a successful politician in the country’s rugged and rough political terrain. When Rahul Gandhi started his 144-day foot march, ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, across nearly 4000 kilometres – from Kanyakumari to Srinagar on 7 September 2022, many political commentators doubted that he would walk the entire course. This ‘Right is Wrong’ column was the first to be published anywhere to envisage the success of the Yatra in creating an alternative discourse for political mobilisation in the country, and that it did.
The spectacular success of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra surprised many of his critics; Rahul Gandhi not only walked almost 4000 kilometres, which no other politician has done anywhere in the world in this century, but his message of democracy, secularism, unity, and tolerance also attracted large crowds. The Yatra took away any doubt anyone had about his crowd-pulling ability, tenacity, and simplicity. Immediately after the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Hindenburg report gave Rahul Gandhi powerful ammunition to take on the government for its perceived links with the Adani Group. He has consistently criticised the present ruling establishment’s support of the Adani group for years. The release of the Hindenburg report and its aftermath raised his credibility as a serious politician with a better understanding of economic and political issues. His rising popularity among voters and growing acceptance among other opposition parties brought nervousness within the ruling establishment. Thus, an old and inconsequential case has been used to sentence him to two years in jail, and using that court ruling, he has been disqualified from the Parliament.
The vindictive actions against Rahul Gandhi have brought a larger unity among the opposition parties as they are genuinely worried about what may happen to them soon. In Indian politics, the sympathy factor also plays a significant role. Jail sentences, disqualification from the Parliament, and withdrawal of government accommodation are being seen by the people that a high-handed government is victimising Rahul Gandhi. This sympathy wave has created nervousness in the ruling BJP.
Rahul Gandhi understands well the political advantage he has received on a platter, so instead of being cowed down; he has doubled down his attacks against the majoritarian forces. India’s ruling establishment, due to its folly, has transformed Rahul into a Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi is not anymore a reluctant political dynast but a daring mass leader who uses self-sacrifice as a political weapon and is not afraid to take on a mighty political machinery. Unlike the commentators or other opposition party leaders, Rahul Gandhi is least interested in short-term calculations, and he is engaged in a long-drawn-out fight with the majoritarian forces in the country. He knows time is on his side, and there is a time limit for the popular support of majoritarian populism. His fight is more ideological than political, and he understands that the ideological rather than tactical defeat of majoritarian forces is long-term and sustainable for the country.