• Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Rahul Gandhi turns 54: The man must be happy this birthday & why not…

After facing numerous electoral debacles, the Indian National Congress leader saw his party reviving itself in the general elections of 2024 and getting 99 seats, its best show in a decade.

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi (Photo by Ritesh Shukla/Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

ON June 19, Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India’s main opposition party Indian National Congress, turned 54. It is perhaps the best birthday that the leader has seen in years, given the nosedive his political career had taken since 2014. A fortnight before his birthday, Rahul Gandhi led his party to its best electoral result in a decade, winning 99 seats in the general elections, much higher than the tallies of 44 and 52 in the 2014 and 2019 elections, respectively.

The humiliation in those two general polls was not the only low points that Gandhi encountered. His party faced numerous electoral debacles in several states of the country in this period. In Uttar Pradesh, his Grand-Old Party found itself moved to the fringes, falling from great heights in the past. Rahul himself also lost from the constituency of Amethi, which was once a bastion of the Gandhi family.

However, June 4 marked a kind of revival for the leader and his party as the opposition bloc named INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) managed to deny prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from winning an outright majority and had to depend on its partners in the National Democratic Alliance to form majority and the government.

Read: Rahul Gandhi to retain Rae Bareli seat, sister Priyanka to contest Wayanad bypoll

While Modi returned as the PM for the third successive time, the victory was far from an emphatic one, as his supporters had been claiming before the elections, and it was Rahul Gandhi who was the natural beneficiary of the outcome, just like he was blamed when the Congress fell flat in major elections in the past.

There is no denying the fact that despite facing a massive right-wing propaganda machinery that targeted him round the clock, Rahul Gandhi did not ignore his responsibility. While many had accused (they still do) him of being a beneficiary of dynastic politics who was projected to the forefront by his party despite having no administrative experience and mocked him saying his oratory skills were zero when compared to Modi, it would not be wise to conclude that the former Congress leader was as ‘naïve’ in this year’s election.

Read: Mocked for a decade, Rahul Gandhi slows Modi juggernaut

Rahul Gandhi took two important steps in the run-up to the general elections in 2024.

One, he took to the streets and walked among the common people during his two cross-country marches – Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) and Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (United India Justice March). The first one saw him connecting the southern and northern limits of the country while the second saw him doing the same from east to west.

Rahul was joined by thousands of people, including common men and dignitaries and despite the BJP mocking his walkathons, they did not fail. Rahul Gandhi, often called a ‘blue-blood’ politician, succeeded in establishing an image of a man who is close to the common people. He even went to Manipur, which has seen ethnic violence for a long time, and met the victims.

The Congress leader’s other significant move was joining hands with a number of local political parties for the elections and even agreeing to play second-fiddle to them in many states. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the Samajwadi Party played the senior ally’s role. In Tamil Nadu, likewise, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam led the Congress as the stronger ally. The understanding remained secondary to the bigger role of making dents into the BJP’s vote bank and the Congress and its allies achieved the goal successfully. Being a national party which is no more a dominating force as it used to be in the past, the Grand-Old Party’s maturity in responding realistically to the given situation under Rahul paid off.

It is true that Rahul Gandhi has taken his own time to grow as a politician but he certainly has. He was convicted in a defamation case after targeting the ‘Modi’ surname and even disqualified as an MP. An intervention by the Supreme Court of India saw him getting his seat in the parliament again and this year, he went on to win two seats – Rae Bareli vacated by his mother Sonia Gandhi – besides Wayanad, which he won in 2019, and went to parliament despite losing Amethi.

Rahul’s decision to retain Rae Bareli and vacate Wayanad where his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will contest the by-election also speaks amply about his political acumen. By taking the decision, he has given the BJP a clear message that he is ready to take the Hindu nationalist camp head on in the country’s most significant state politically, ahead of the 2027 state polls and 2029 general polls.

With Modi nearing 75, the age limit his party prefers to call as one of retirement, and Brand Yogi Adityanath taking a hit in Uttar Pradesh in this year’s election, Rahul Gandhi could well become a face to watch out for five years down the line when India votes again.

It is true that Rahul, who was first elected as an MP in 2004, did not take up any role in the two successive governments that his party led with Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. He was also accused of embarrassing his own PM by trashing an ordinance to save convicted legislators from disqualification, in the open. The Congress also tried to launch him as its face on numerous occasions but repeated electoral defeats only made it and Rahul a subject of ridicule.

But in 2024, a decade since Modi became the prime minister and he faced several defeats, Rahul Gandhi has managed to make some serious amends. His style of functioning might not have been sophisticated enough to impress his critics but Rahul Gandhi has somehow managed to drive home the point that he and his weakened Congress still constitute a symbol of resistance against the Hindu nationalists and a form of what many see as ‘bulldozer’ politics.

After several setbacks, that is not a small achievement for the man.

Happy birthday, Rahul Gandhi!

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