*Image credit Money Control
Rahul Gandhi’s just concluded ‘pad yatra’ may have given a new lease of life to the Congress party but, as the saying goes, the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
The big question, therefore, is: will the party retain power in Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh and wrest control from the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka? These are among the nine states which would go for legislative assembly elections this year. Elections in some faraway northeastern states do not matter much. The bigger question will, of course, follow next year when national elections take place to elect members of the Lok Sabha.
Much as Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have sought to detach the padyatra from electoral politics, the Gandhi scion will be put to greater scrutiny over his party’s performance in the upcoming polls. This is because the pad yatra has raised hopes among party cadres and sympathisers that the exercise would benefit the party. His unfurling of the national flag at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk amid much fanfare and public gathering has been projected as a grand finale of the yatra.
In many ways, the ‘Bharat Jodo padyatra’ was an exercise in image make-over for Rahul inasmuch as it helped him portray as a serious leader working to unite the people of the country through love and harmony relinquishing what he termed the hate and divide narrative of the ruling party. Clearly, the motive was political as he aimed at taking on the ruling BJP whose aggressive nationalistic stance has alienated the minorities.
Considering that several leaders across the Opposition parties participated in the yatra at some point or another, Congress may have a legitimate claim over the leadership in the 2024 parliamentary elections, much will depend upon the gains the party makes in the upcoming assembly elections. Even so, it will be too much to expect that Rahul Gandhi will emerge as the Opposition’s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2024.
Rahul Gandhi and the Congress remain a reg rag for the ruling BJP much as it seeks to lampoon him. No other leader and the party is so much in the BJP’s radar judging by reactions from the ruling dispensation. Does it prove that Rahul’s rise is inevitable? Many seem to think so who take a distant horizon.
Parliament’s Budget session which began on Tuesday with the President’s joint address is expected to give a clue to Opposition’s much-talked-about unity and Rahul’s new avatar, if any, before the state polls this year and the national elections next year. Fortunately for Rahul, there is no Opposition leader in the horizon who can take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his resurgent BJP at the moment. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who seemed to be positioning himself as a possible prime ministerial candidate in 2024, is losing his luster. His West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee has become quiet after roaring against Modi for some time. Senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar seems to be out of reckoning either on account of his health. Bharat Rashtra Samiti leader and Telangana CM K. Chandrashekhar Rao has expressed his intentions to foray into national politics hoping to gather Opposition leaders around, but it has hardly made any impact.
Rahul Gandhi, therefore, continues to remain a pole having been a former President of the Congress, the only party with a pan-India presence of whatever significance. Pertinently, Rahul is about the only leader in the Opposition ranks who continues to attack Modi from the front. His yatra, according to many, has given him a leg up. It is not for no reason, therefore, that the BJP is never tired of attacking him, for it sees in him the possible rallying point for the Opposition. Present Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge is only a stop-gap arrangement. Though elected, his influence in the party is directly dependent on his proximity with the Gandhi family. Clearly, Rahul Gandhi is the leader to watch out for.