Rahul working on anti-PM protests in US

Rahul working on anti-PM protests in US

By MADHAV NALAPAT | NEW DELHI | 26 September, 2015
Rahul working on anti-PM protests in US
For close to nine months, the Congress VP has been meeting ‘representatives of civil society from India’ in London and New York.

Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi has been "meeting quietly in the US with groups intending to carry out protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi" during the PM's ongoing visit to the world's biggest economy. According to those associated with the planning of the strategy of the Congress vice-president, "Rahul is not encouraging any anti-Modi demonstrations and protests, but simply understanding what the reasons for anger are". However, analysts tracking Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi say that his role has been much more pro-active, and that should there be large-scale protests during the Prime Minister's public appearances in San Jose and New York, it would mean "some success for Rahul's carefully planned strategy of seeking to show globally that Modi has as many critics as admirers in the US", thereby taking some of the shine off the PM's Madison Square-style public rallies in the country and his meetings with corporate leaders.

Those tracking the nature and extent of Rahul's activities on foreign shores claim that his "sensitive and secretive" meetings while in the US, many with anti-Modi groups, is the reason why there is such secrecy about his whereabouts and activities during this latest period of disappearance from public radar. They add that Rahul Gandhi has been meeting for close to nine months in London and New York with "representatives of civil society from India who have been active in canvassing support for condemning the Union government for what they claim is its insensitivity to minority concerns and its majoritarian agenda".

Rahul's meetings while in the US are related to what analysts term as his "crusade" to ensure that the BJP led by Narendra Modi falls to a tally of 175-150 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 polls, thereby ensuring that a non-saffron dispensation takes office in the national capital. "Rahul is aiming to become Prime Minister only by 2024 and not 2019, and hence can take the long view of political developments", they point out. Even after nine more years, the Congress vice-president would be a decade younger than Narendra Modi was when he took the oath of office as Prime Minister on 26 May 2014. These analysts say that — health permitting — Congress president Sonia Gandhi may get her term extended up to the close of 2017, or until the UP Assembly elections get decided, "so that Rahul could take charge on a fresh slate and focus on the parliamentary polls".

Since the shock collapse of his party on 16 May 2014, "the centrepiece of Rahul Gandhi's game plan is to ensure that Prime Minister Modi does not get a second term, and if this means sacrificing the short-term interests of the Congress in some states, Rahul is ready". This strategy has come into operation in Bihar, where the Congress has accepted a seat quota less than half of what was allocated to either the RJD and the JDU, and is likely to get replicated in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, with the party likely to contest a lower number of seats than the last time as a gesture of goodwill to regional heavyweights Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Those tracking the first family of the Congress claim that the UP Assembly elections will witness the emergence of the telegenic Priyanka Vadra on the political stage, abandoning her earlier cameo appearances, "as by that time, efforts at blackening the name of her husband would have run its course" and any extra damage by such actions would be low.

"Rahul has studied the way in which Narendra Modi consolidated himself in Gujarat through gaining a reputation for honesty and efficiency in government, and is therefore determined to ensure that at the Central level, Team Modi be perceived differently" (from what was the case in Gujarat). Hence the strategy of (a) blocking reforms such as GST and the Land Bill which would enhance the performance and hence the reputation of the Central government, and (b) constantly levelling allegations of corruption against state and central leaders of the BJP. Those tracking the Congress vice-president say that he has activated a small group to locate possible charges of corruption at the Central and state levels, and that "such research is being clandestinely assisted by officials who have for years been close to the Congress". In a gesture of conciliation, the Narendra Modi government has retained many officials known to have been close to the UPA in sensitive posts, and has refrained from any witch-hunt against UPA-era Central ministers, except by carrying forward probes already set in motion during the tenure of Manmohan Singh. "Even probes already existing (since the UPA period), such as that against Dayanidhi Maran, are being conducted professionally, and every opportunity is being given to the accused to defend themselves. Whether it be Maran, Kanimozhi or even Raja, they cannot claim that any undue interest is being taken in their cases," a senior official pointed out, adding that "the same is the case with the probes against Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati as well".

Officials say that Prime Minister Modi has distanced himself from all such investigations and has asked the officials concerned to conduct them in a manner that is not related to political exigencies. Perhaps as a consequence, there appears to have been little progress on the BJP's Lok Sabha poll promise of bringing to book those guilty of corruption in the numerous UPA-era scams. Those close to Rahul Gandhi say that the breather has given them time to regroup and also to fight back effectively against any future probe, whereas any action taken during the glow of the initial months of the BJP's 2014 triumph would have been accepted by the public. According to those studying the behind-the-curtain moves of the Congress heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi is convinced that after the lapse of nearly 18 months since the Lok Sabha results were declared, routine allegations of corruption against the Congress and its UPA partners no longer carry much weight with the public, for the reason that "they will ask why (if the charges were true) no action was taken by the NDA government against the guilty", with not even a single FIR being filed against UPA ministers known to be super-wealthy. Four polling agencies are independently being used by Team Rahul, and it is claimed by those close to Rahul Gandhi "these are unanimous that there is a change of mood towards both the Congress as well as the BJP since 2014" and that this will get reflected in future Congress-BJP contests.

Apart from a barrage of corruption charges directed against BJP decision-makers and the blocking of reform proposals that could lead to a visible improvement in performance over the coming three years (till the 2019 polls), the plans being scripted by Rahul Gandhi include measures designed to "bring down the reputation both domestically as well as internationally of Prime Minister Modi". The emerging Congress supremo is "closely watching the rash of strike calls and protests by railway, bank employees and other powerful trade union groups and believes that these will launch protest after protest, strike upon strike, beginning before polls close in Bihar". During the past year, the Modi government has wheeled out its heavyweight ministers to negotiate with bank, port, coal and insurance unions, thereby giving itself little leeway in case fresh demands (such as a generalised call for OROP) come up. Rahul Gandhi has asked key members of his team to "meet with union representatives quietly" and has promised the "support of the Congress in future agitations" against the Central government, according to those privy to his thinking. Small wonder that CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury seems to be edging closer tactically to the Congress despite his party seeing the latter as its principal foe in Kerala.

"Rahul Gandhi's plan is to ensure that reforms essential to better performance get delayed till the 2017 UP elections are over", so that the BJP does not reap the electoral dividend of such measures in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which remain the primary focus of the Congress vice-president. Those privy to his thinking say that "Rahul is aware that core economic reform measures take two to three years to begin to show results, and that for the first two or three years, the political dividend is negative from such steps", although these become positive soon afterwards and remain so for long periods. They say that the Congress heir apparent has studied the working of the A.B. Vajpayee government and believes that it was "dissatisfaction in the urban areas caused by corruption, lack of jobs and price rise which got the NDA defeated in 2004", apart from "a delay in carrying out enough reforms during the first two of the six years in office of Prime Minister Vajpayee". The four factors (joblessness, inflation, corruption and slowness in reforms) form the staple theme of the Rahul-crafted Congress attacks on the Modi government. Congress success in continuing to block GST and other key reforms and in maintaining a drumbeat of charges against Team Modi will determine whether Rahul Gandhi's "NoNamo 2019" strategy is working.

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