The Congress would like to call demonetisation the biggest scam in India's political history. The party's vice-president Rahul Gandhi and senior member P Chidambaram have said so already. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala repeated it on Thursday. However, as none offers any specific case of wrong-doing involving either Narendra Modi or any other BJP biggie or the party for scrutiny, the allegation sounds hollow. The BJP has laughed it off, indulging in a bit of whataboutery.
But it should be careful. The Congress may not exactly be looking to catch thieves; it could be playing the perception game. It senses that Modi's aura of infallibility has taken a hit after demonetisation — the first time since he came to power in 2014 with a thumping mandate — and it stands a chance to catch up with him now. The post 8 November scenario has also provided Rahul the right platform to buttress the pro-poor image he has been trying to build assiduously over the last few years. The Congress is also aware that with nearly half of the government's tenure left, the party still has time to recover lost ground and throw a credible challenge to the BJP in 2019.
Coming to public perception, Modi still enjoys a clear advantage over all his rivals. His leadership style, manner of communication and most importantly, his untainted image continue to be his unique selling proposition. Till demonetisation, the Opposition, specifically the Congress, did not have a strong ground to launch a sustained attack on him. Things could have changed a bit after 8 November. The rivals have discovered that his USP could be his weakness too. The trouble to the public due to demonetisation exercise has raised questions on his style of leadership — some have called it reckless. His famous oratorical skill, for a change, appears to be failing him.
However, neither dents his stature as a leader much. The real damage could come only from the corruption taint on his image. That is the reason the Congress has been busy levelling corruption charges against him. Calling the demonetisation exercise a scam and presenting documents citing that he received money from corporate players work to that end. The Congress can draw some satisfaction if it manages to change the public perception on Modi's incorruptibility.
For the BJP it should be a matter of worry. It has exhausted most of its bankable emotive issues. The nationalism debate has run its course as has the controversy over cow and minorities. Nationalism and patriotism have lost the novelty quotient. The party cannot keep harping on Pakistan and terrorism forever given the post-surgical strike developments. Development as a talking point has lost some of its shine too. Unless it has new cards up its sleeve to drum up emotions — it's an essential part of the party's electoral strategy — the BJP might get into serious trouble in the run-up to the next general election.
Thus for all practical purposes Modi will remain the riveting point for the party as always. The Opposition's strategy would be to sully his image. The BJP can expect the Congress to intensify its attack on him in the coming days and continue with it for long. Rahul, obviously, will be at the forefront. It would be required to work on a strategy to blunt all attempts to spoil his image. Things could change if Modi keeps springing surprises to keep all confused and behind the curve. This has worked to his advantage so far.
Scam or no scam expect the coming months to be interesting.