Rahul Gandhi leads protests over CBI row: BJP can no longer dismiss Congress president by simply mocking him

With party president Rahul Gandhi leading from the front, the Congress appears to have rediscovered its qualities in protesting. The Rafale deal and the in-house factional fight within the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have allowed the party to spring back into an aggressive mode.

For the first time after the defeat of 2014, the party is getting even with the BJP. It has also managed to put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a spot of bother. It can only be good news for the dispirited cadre ahead of the elections of 2019.

Rahul Gandhi leaves a police station after being detained temporarily. PTI

Rahul Gandhi leaves a police station after being detained temporarily. PTI

As Rahul courted arrest on Friday over affairs in the country's premier investigating agency after a street protest, what mattered more was the optics, not the content. It appeared to be a strategy to hog the limelight. But he has been scoring several points through such protests.

Attempt to dent Modi’s incorruptible image

By keeping the Rafale heat on, Rahul is denting the image of incorruptibility of the prime minister. The prime minister till date enjoys an impeccable image, with high personal integrity.

Whether in poll campaigns or public rallies or press conferences, the Congress president has continuously been dubbing Modi as “chor” (thief).

Along with the Rafale issue, the fresh CBI fiasco has been added to Congress’ ammunition against Modi and the NDA government.

After taking a short march on Friday from Dayal Singh College to CBI headquarters, Rahul addressed a crowd comprising party workers and public at Lodhi Road area in New Delhi, and said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is finishing every institution of the country because he wants to hide the corruption in the Rafale deal. He is attacking the CBI, Election Commission and other institutions. Chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief)…The Congress won’t allow the chowkidar to commit this theft."

Hitting out at Modi’s good governance claim

By highlighting the fracas in the CBI through a pan-India protest, Rahul has been hitting out at the good governance claim of Modi. The infighting and mudslinging between the agency director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana has caused enough embarrassment for the government. As a result, both have been asked to go on leave.

Congress, by repeatedly picking up issues like statements made by Union ministers on Rafale, bank scams related to Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Chowksi or the latest CBI incident, has been trying to weave a narrative of ‘poor governance of Modi government’ ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls this year and 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Rahul Gandhi burnishing his image

Through constant protests, Rahul is in fact burnishing his own image as a leader. Right from staging an aggressive protest demonstration against the government on street to courting arrest, he has tried to give a public message that the voters can depend on him and his party.

His moves are likely to enthuse the cadre, which had seen no street action from a top leader for a long time. Whether it was on the streets of Bhopal or Hyderabad or elsewhere, the state Congress leaders and workers replicated Rahul in their respective domains.

Rahul has managed to keep BJP on the back foot

Not long ago, all BJP leaders were dismissive of Rahul, taking his acumen as a leader lightly. Now, he is taking the battle directly to the BJP camp.

While he has been raising issues of farmers and other disprivileged groups in rallies in BJP-ruled states, he has also been trying to depict the prime minister in poor light. His assertiveness has put the BJP in a spot of trouble. In the face of uncomfortable truths, they can no more lampoon him. And they know no other way to handle him. Rahul is also drawing positive response from the crowds.

Mocking Rahul as ‘pappu’ may boomerang for the BJP.

Then and now

On 6 May, 2016, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had courted arrest at Parliament Street police station after Congress’ ‘Save Democracy’ rally, which was led by the party president.

Like on Friday, the Congress had charged Modi with ‘pursuing a strategy to destroy Congress’. Besides raking up the issue of AgustaWestland and raising slogans on streets, the Congress had referred to the toppling of its governments in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand as “murder of democracy”.

However, unlike Friday’s street rally and the eventual arrests of Congress leaders, the 2016 protest was more personalised, more restricted to the party’s own position.

Today, the amplifying effect was more as people on the streets could easily connect with the CBI issue. The word ‘CBI’ and corruption issues related to this premier investigative agency are anyway catchier than issues related to AgustaWestland or even the Rafale Deal for a common man.

The repeated slogan of Rahul – “chowkidar chor hai” — has found a strong resonance with the common man. The detention of the Congress president today attracted more eyeballs than in 2016, which was tepid and less aggressive.


Updated Date: Oct 27, 2018 10:07 AM

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