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Rahul Gandhi's leadership has blossomed in the last two months. Gone are the days when he was ridiculed as a “Pappu” by Modi bhakts. He is now a rage on Twitter giving Modi punches through one-liners. This author decodes why the Congress is suddenly on Cloud 9. “Blind man prays to god that he be given one eye, but receives two”, thus goes a Marathi saying, implying how dame luck smiles suddenly on someone sometimes. The saying aptly reflects the current mood of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, badly battered in successive state polls since the ignominy of securing just 44 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls. So far, the spectacular victory in Punjab was the only consolation. Thanks to demonetisation and the ‘faulty’ GST coupled with a series of mistakes by the Narendra Modi dispensation, Rahul and his party are on cloud nine, not only bravely facing the polls in Gujarat, the backyard of the Prime Minister as also BJP Chief Amit Shah for the past 22 years, but also enjoying every moment. Poll surveys may have spoken of a smooth sailing for the BJP and majority to it in the 182-member House, but political pundits have put 50:50 chance for the ruling party and the Congress at present when the campaigning is yet to intensify. It would be foolhardy to believe that the two ‘Mahabalis’ of BJP- Modi and Shah- would not attempt to torpedo Rahul and his party on their home turf. But it is equally true that the Prime Minister and the BJP chief have become apprehensive due to the change of the mood of the Gujarat voter which they appeared to have noticed late. Rahul is not only drawing good crowds but is succeeding in his attempts to expose the ‘Gujarat Model’ The desperation in the BJP is showing. The Prime Minister has paid six visits to Gujarat in one month while the BJP chief has done everything possible to make the organisation a fighting machine. The sudden rush of a host of decisions ranging from the cut in Excise duty of Petrol and Diesel as also tinkering with the GST and the major decision to recapitalise the banks—all have been taken to retain Gujarat. What has clicked for Congress in past two months is the way Rahul’s leadership has blossomed recently. Gone are the days when he was ridiculed as a “Pappu” by Modi bhakts. He has become a rage on Twitter giving Modi punches through his one-liners. He no longer is being seen as a ‘failed dynast’ but a challenger. The perception that he is a reluctant and diffident leader is undergoing a change as attempts by the Grand Old Party to give a makeover to its leader are succeeding much to the worry of the Prime Minister and the ruling party.
A political commentator put it succinctly suggesting that it is still time to say whether Rahul has “arrived”, but it must be said that he has “arrived on the stage of Indian political theatre”.The fact is that Congress is bound to get an adrenaline rush when it has found the Achilees’ heel of the Modi dispensation, which was tom-tomming till yesterday that the economy is booming. After going through its worst patch in independent India which saw the Prime Minister himself leading the campaign of “Congress –mukt Bharat”, the Grand Old Party is now feeling that the time to strike back is gradually appearing on the horizon. It is not exactly the Eureka moment but the Congress strategists have realised that “It is the economy, stupid” line that is bound to work in the days and months ahead. No section is happy. Youth are not. There are no jobs. Farmers are not. The agrarian crisis is worsening and so also farmer’s suicides. The reduction in interest rates is affecting those retired and the elderly. The demonetisation and the implementation of the GST has harmed the trader, once the backbone of the BJP. Private investment is not growing as industrialists and the entrepreneurs are keeping their fingers crossed and keeping mum. They generally open their mouth to praise the government to be politically correct in this time and age. The real estate sector is doomed and the gems and jewellery sector is facing lower demands in festive season. Some private banks have even started retrenchment. This in a nutshell is the opposition assessment with Congress strategists feeling that those who used to boast of a ‘56-inch chest” have been clueless on tackling economy at such a critical juncture and are bound to blunder their way up to the next Lok Sabha elections. It is not proper to see the battle ahead in the context of the 2014 polls where Congress had secured just 44 seats and BJP 282, securing absolute majority on its own. This is because the Congress had got 19 per cent votes while the BJP 31 per cent and therefore political pundits say that if the Congress succeeded in getting a five per cent push it could change things vastly as it would be a tall order for the BJP to retain such a vote percentage unless there is again a Modi wave. There is nothing going right for the BJP since the shock victory of Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. It has lost the Bawana bypoll in Delhi which saw not only AAP staging a comeback but also Congress reviving in national capital. Congress also won the DUSU polls. Gujarat results next month will show which way the political wind is blowing. Irrespective of whatever would be the outcome there, Congress has started the initial exercise of cobbling up of an alliance for the ‘mother of all battles’ in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even the critics of the Congress Vice President are grudgingly admitting that Gandhi is learning heavily by the day. Nationally, exciting times are ahead as opposition leaders feel that the situation obtaining today showed that the 2019 polls is an ‘open field’ if they act smartly, decisively and unitedly. Sunil Gatade is a senior journalist.