Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra were detained by the UP Police last week enroute to meet the family of the Hathras alleged rape victim.
Videos of police personnel ‘pushing’ Rahul to the ground while he was inquiring about the relevant sections, under which Congressmen were stopped from going to the village, went viral.
The national media picked up the news and cited it as an attempt to throttle the voice of dissent. The Bharatiya Janata Party accused Rahul of political opportunism and dismissed Rahul’s antics as a photo op. #DalitLivesMatter, meanwhile, began trending at the top on Twitter.
The Gandhis finally managed to meet the Hathras family on Saturday. The picture of Priyanka hugging the mother of the victim went viral.
Around this time, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered a CBI enquiry into the matter. And the Congress is claiming this to be its victory.
Rahul then hopped onto a tractor in Punjab joining Kheti Bachao Yatra, the protest against the farm bills announced by the BJP government. Addressing a rally at Moga, in Punjab, he said the Congress will repeal the laws if voted back to power in the next general elections in 2024.
Whatever said and done, this incident has charged up the Congress rank and file, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which is likely to go to polls in 2022.
Key Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have not taken to the streets and Congress seems to have taken the lead, under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi for the past six months orso.
The appointment of Ajay Kumar Lallu as president of the state Congress Committee has galvanized the cadre in UP, a politically important state for Congress, where its graph has fallen considerably since 1989.
Lallu’s strategy of sampark - samvad - sangharsh (contact - communication - struggle) has ensured Congress is visible everywhere in the state and it is increasingly becoming the talking point in UP with Mayawati and Akhilesh absent from the scene.
The Gandhis have been accused of doing armchair politics for a long time and not challenging the BJP on the ground. The air-conditioned room Twitter politics of the top leadership has been criticized by even the party supporters and liberals.
A good change for Rahul who has been interviewing economists and released his own version of the prime minister’s Mann Ki baat.
Political dangals in India still take place not on social media but on the actual ground. People expect from effective Opposition parties to raise their issues and problems.
A sincere effort is more than enough to show voters that you have stood with them during trying times. If under the pressure of the Opposition, the government takes note/solves the problem, then it can take credit for the same.
People in India, more so in the rural parts, still grapple with bread and butter issues like roti, kapda, makan, bijli, sadak, paani. Issues which appear small like onion price rise or corruption can lead to the downfall of governments as we have seen in the past.
For example, the BJP government in Delhi in 1998 due to high onion prices. The UPA 2.0 lost due to corruption scams 2G, CWG, jijaji.
The BJP government in UP erred in this case. By stopping and then detaining the Gandhis, they were provided an opportunity on the platter to hog the limelight. Why was the BJP giving too much importance to a leader whom they have branded as pappu? Why was a party which has less than 10 seats in UP provided a lease of life?
Congress has been relegated to 4th position in the state since the advent of the mandal and kamandal politics. Former Defence Minister George Fernandes once remarked that the real test of an Opposition leader is the number of lathi blows that he has received.
The Hathras incident has rejuvenated the Congress cadre in the state and countrywide. In India, the road to political redemption lies in protesting on the streets and amongst the people.
In a similar vein, Rahul had launched a massive protest against the Bhatta Parsaul in 2011 against Mayawati’s land acquisition policy,but that didn’t benefit the Congress electorally in the state in 2012 elections, as the momentum couldn’t be sustained.
During the last year or so Priyanka has been trying to emerge as the main opposition to Yogi in UP, and she might be pitched as chief ministerial candidate of the Congress.
She has questioned the government on Sonbhadra, anti-CAA protests, migrant labour crisis, atrocities on Dalits, unlawful encounter of Vikas Dubey and now Hathras rape.
In Punjab, which has a history of throwing out incumbent governments, the party is facing stiff competition from Akali Dal which has left the National Democratic Alliance and is also protesting against the farm bills.
There is a consensus among political analysts that such one-off protests would not work, like in the past.
The Gandhi scions have to hit the road in different states all the year round, raising people’s issues and demands. Issues like these resonate with the people rather than Rafale, CAA, Article 370. Unless they do this they would not succeed in creating a negative environment against the Modi government at the Centre and BJP governments in states.
As Rasheed Kidwai mentions in his column, the party can get its mojo back if Rahul and Priyanka are ready to face what their uncle Sanjay Gandhi did after the 1977 loss: lathi charge, police atrocities, jail.
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