Rahul Gandhi apparently believes that a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned the nation with his surprise demonetisation move, the issue can now be turned into a winning formula for the Congress in the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections.
If he is able to retain power for the Congress in Himachal Pradesh and throw the BJP out of power in Gujarat, he would have established himself as a leader. He will then become a formidable challenger to Modi in 2019. The outcome of the Gujarat polls will shape the future narrative of political parties and of the media. There can’t be a second opinion on how important these elections are for the BJP and Congress, which are pitted head to head in both the states. More so, Gujarat is Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah’s home state. The BJP has not lost elections in the state since 1995.
Rahul and his core strategists think that demonetisation and the initial irritants in GST would clinch the game for him and the Congress. The Congress vice president on Monday chaired a meeting of state and central party leaders to chalk out a program to observe the first anniversary of demonetisation, 8 November as “Black Day.” The Congress plans to hold demonstrations at district and state headquarters. After that meeting, Rahul came out to brief the media and declare `notebandi’ as an 'out and out disaster.' Some time later, the party’s spokesperson called demonetisation as the biggest-ever scam. This statement reiterated Manmohan Singh's statement in the Rajya Sabha during the last winter session that it was “in fact a case of organized loot and legalised plunder”.
The Congress-sponsored “black day” protests in all states, including Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, would be held when campaigning in Himachal Pradesh would have come to an end. The Congress would be hoping that the cacophony created by them around the supposed ills of demonetisation would influence the voting pattern. Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls on 9 November. But the Congress’s plan wouldn’t go unchallenged. The BJP has planned to observe 8 November as “anti-black money day”. The BJP, on its part, would hope that between the Congress' 'black day' and their 'anti-black money' day, voters' sentiments would go with the latter.
Demonetisation has came and gone. It is now just a faint memory and people's opinions of it depend on which side of the social, economic and political spectrum they are placed. From 8 November, 2016—when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through his surprise 8 pm address, stunned the nation—to mid- March 2017, the whole nation talked about the merits and pitfalls of the exercise. The debate continued till the assembly elections in five states, including UP, were over. By that time, banks and ATMs were again full with cash.
The demonetisation debate was settled in favour of PM Modi as Rahul Gandi was conclusively defeated in Uttar Pradesh, and so was his newly-found friend and alliance partner Akhilesh Yadav. The BJP’s government was installed in four states, while the Congress could gain power only in Punjab. But the winds of change that blew in Punjab originated from a host of anti-incumbency issues against Badals, and not demonetisation.
The BJP also won or performed phenomenally better in local body, municipal and panchayat elections in all parts of the country that were held after demonetisation. The poor sided with Modi, as did a vast mass of middle class. They considered it a brave bold move to eradicate the menace of black money, corruption, terrorism and drug funding. Also, it was taken as a pro-poor, anti-rich move by the economically weaker sections of society.
Seven to eight months later, Rahul is trying to flog an issue which only brought him defeat and ignominy. He now thinks that demonetisation, clubbed with the initial problems that the trading and business community is facing on GST, will yield him electoral dividends, even though the strategy had failed him in the past. Rahul’s narrative is the same as in the November 2016 to March 2017 period. But Rahul and the Congress are hugely optimistic about their prospects. In any case, one failure or a series of failures do not deter Congress from pursuing the same path and keeping faith in the same leadership. If that were not the case, the Congress wouldn’t have been pushing Rahul Gandhi to succeed his mother Sonia Gandhi as the president of the party.
What has changed from November 2016-March 2017 to Oct 2017 is the conviction of some analysts in finding renewed virtues in Rahul Gandhi. They now see in him the mind and the muscle to challenge Modi. In a Firstpost piece titled “The new Rahul Gandhi is because of New India: Congress VP’s idea echoes sentiments of nation, columnist Ajaz Ashraf wrote: “It has evidently made the BJP nervous that its monopoly over the religious realm could break; its claim of being the sole custodian of Hinduism could stand challenged...Regardless of whether the Congress wins or loses in Gujarat, Rahul will be taken seriously from now on. This is because in the changed political context, people are realising the necessity of seeing an effective counterpoise to the government, undoubtedly adrift, in Rahul . It will be quite another story if Rahul can capture Gujarat.”
Whether Rahul will indeed be taken seriously irrespective of whether the Congress wins or loses Gujarat remains to be seen. One will have to wait till 18 December, when the results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will be announced, to see if such optimism holds ground.
Updated Date: Oct 31, 2017 07:04 AM