Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post of the Congress President in July 2019. Since then he has kept a low profile. He has stayed away from the electoral campaigns since then. This seems to be proving to be a boon for the Opposition.
During the period Rahul Gandhi was leading electoral campaigns for the Congress party, he was massively trolled online for his goof-ups. He was termed the BJP star campaigner by many online supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
His antecedents as an immature leader were cemented with his infamous interview on ‘Frankly Speaking With Arnab’ on Times Now on the eve of the 2014 general elections. His gaffees during his 90-odd minutes long interview and repeating the same answer to different questions made him the butt of jokes on social media.
After the disastrous interview, footage of previous public speeches of Rahul Gandhi was dug up to search for gaffees. This perception of being an immature leader and lack of understanding on matters of importance has proven difficult to shake off. Under his leadership, the Congress has weathered a series of losses culminating in the opposition wipeout in the 2019 general election.
But since Rahul Gandhi has stepped down, the Opposition seems to have a slight upturn in fortunes. With BJP not keeping its ears to the ground in Jharkhand, losing Maharashtra due to a fallout with ally Shiv Sena, it is more of BJP’s fault than the opposition’s political prowess. Then how does the absence of Rahul Gandhi make life easier for the Opposition?
It mostly is due to the image cultivated for Rahul Gandhi by the media rather than his own achievements. His ticket to fame in politics is that he was fortunate to be born into the Nehru-Gandhi family. Without the Gandhi tag, he is just another guy in the vast sea of humans residing in the country.
The India Today group has always kept launching various avatars of Rahul Gandhi trying to build him a political career. He has appeared on the cover the India Today magazine once a year since 2009. Today, it has become a joke of its own. From being the ‘Prime Candidate’ in 2009 to becoming a ‘Resurgent Rahul’ in 2019, Rahul Gandhi according to the magazine is still trying to find his foothold in politics.
A section of the media has advocated vociferously for Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial candidate for a long time. For them, it was a natural progression of the crown prince ascending the throne. And Manmohan Singh during UPA-1 was keeping the throne warm. There was chatter during the 2009 polls that Mr.Gandhi be put forth as the PM candidate. The dream turned to reality in 2014.
Alas, it was a bitter wake up call. With his inaugural interview with Arnab Goswami going for a toss and the UPA carrying a baggage of corruption, it was a difficult road ahead. Then he ran into the storm called Narendra Modi that swept the entire nation in 2014. During the campaign, Modi built for himself a charisma and an image; this created an aura around him.
By building an aura around him, Modi had made electoral battles a personality contest. With the media projecting Rahul Gandhi as an alternate option and him taking the reins of electoral campaigns put him on the forefront of the battle lines. His bumbling relationship with words made him look like a clown rather than a serious leader.
On the other hand, you had Narendra Modi. With a cult like following and a master orator he had audiences eating out of his palms. This clash between personalities overshadowed the realities on the ground. State elections were not being fought on local issues. While some issues were peppered in the political speeches, they were not the major poll planks. It was all about the Modi versus Rahul contest.
With Rahul Gandhi taking a step back from being the centre of Congress campaigns, the interest in Modi speeches has also diminished. As the bulwarks of Congress and BJP are not in a staring contest, there is a space for local issues to become poll issues. A recent look at the state elections might point us in the direction.
Before the 2019 general elections, the BJP lost the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh. The anti-incumbency of three time Chief Minister Raman Singh and his alleged involvement in the PDS scam and his son brought the fall of the government in Chhatisgarh and Rahul Gandhi only campaigned in the last days of the campaign. In Madhya Pradesh, the anger against the nullification of the order on the amendments of SC/ST act angered sections of the electorate that the other issues took a back seat.
Even in Jharkhand, which happened recently the BJP fought on the national issue of 370 and Triple Talaq but the absence of a polarising national figure in the form of Rahul Gandhi did not help in the transfer of vote. By not keeping its ear to the ground and letting groupism fester within the party, BJP is aiding its own demise.
The Opposition smartly has kept Rahul Gandhi away from the spotlight in the last few months and focused on targeting the government over its policies. The criticism justified or not has percolated. His comedic antics which acted as a tool for the government to push their point forward is currently missing. The absence of gaffe prone Rahul Gandhi is turning out to be a boon for the Opposition.