Rahul Gandhi’s Political Odyssey: Unravelling The Enigma Of Remaining Supporters

Nandini Bahri Dhanda

Mar 09, 2024, 09:00 AM | Updated 01:07 PM IST

Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.
Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.

From that ‘Frankly Speaking’ interview of Arnab Goswami in 2014 to the time Rahul Gandhi adopted the slogan "Chowkidar Chor Hai" in 2019 and plunged recklessly into what appeared to be an Adani-Ambani tirade, his efforts to connect with the public seemed to misfire.

Mishandling facts and figures with a carelessness that undermined his own cause, he raised a growing, albeit quiet, question: What is the profile of the voter that supports him and his party?

Subsequently, at highly publicised lectures in prestigious venues like Cambridge, where more than slogans were anticipated, observers started noticing Rahul Gandhi's inarticulateness, nervous lacing and unlacing of fingers and his struggle to articulate coherent thoughts despite prolonged pauses.

These observations cast doubts not only on his abilities as a public speaker but also on his comprehension levels and, more broadly, his capacities as a politician positioning himself as an alternative to Narendra Modi. Social media disseminated these images widely, highlighting the stark contrast between the aspirant and the office-holder.

Around the same time, US President Barack Obama's book A Promised Land depicted Rahul with a "nervous informed quality”, portraying him as a student who completed coursework but lacked either the aptitude or passion to master the subject.

Adding to the scepticism, Saeed Naqvi's WikiLeaks comments resurfaced, with Naqvi, a personal friend of Rahul's father, Rajiv Gandhi, expressing initial delight in Sonia Gandhi projecting Rahul as the heir apparent.

However, he had lost faith, claiming that insiders believed Rahul would never become prime minister due to "personality problems" of an emotional or psychological nature hindering his ability to function effectively.

Naqvi further revealed that Rahul's performance as an MP in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, had disappointed Congress insiders. Despite hopes for a revival campaign based on Rahul's appeal as a member of the Gandhi dynasty, Naqvi suggested that Rahul's actions were causing more harm than good, operating at cross-purposes to the state Congress leadership.

The repercussions of these perceptions were manifest in the diminishing support for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party, leading him to opt for a 'safe seat' in 2019. The outcome was evident in the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and subsequent state elections.

Since 2014, and even more since 2019, we have been astounded by the staggering frequency — 109 times, to be precise between 2014-22 — that Rahul has vanished to undisclosed locations.

Through glimpses on social media, we have witnessed the company he maintains while abroad, all while acknowledging the recurring pattern of significant disruptions occurring in the country during his absences.

Speculations about his alleged MoU with China’s Communist Party, his foreign funding have become more pronounced lately, amplifying the discourse he allegedly receives from entities inimical to India.

In recent times, Rahul Gandhi's political trajectory has been marked by much trumpeted events, such as the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which appeared to fall short in fostering national unity. His perplexing positions and attempts to assume a quasi-love guru role through the Mohabbat Ki Dukaan traveling spectacle have added to a sense of confusion.

Moreover, the noticeable exodus of prominent figures from the Congress party has fuelled concerns about the party's internal cohesion.

In a last-ditch effort, Rahul has resorted to aggressive, incendiary, and divisive rhetoric during the ongoing Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, intensifying scrutiny over his leadership qualities and the perceived hazards associated with his vision for the country.

This has prompted an open and widespread discourse on social media, in various social gatherings, workplaces, and within WhatsApp groups. The central question being asked is about the identity and motivations of the remaining supporters of Rahul Gandhi and his struggling Congress.

People are openly pondering: Who are these supporters, and what draws them to Rahul Gandhi's floundering political enterprise?

After engaging in conversations with a diverse spectrum of individuals across construction sites, including carpenters, daily wage labourers, electricians, plumbers, and contractors, as well as the owners of these high-end homes, friends, family, work colleagues, the question that arose repeatedly was: Why do some people cast their votes in favour of the Congress party? 

This was perplexing given the palpable disdain towards Rahul Gandhi and the party's extensive track record of misgovernance.

Here are several overarching categories that encompass Congress supporters:

1. The Beholden Factor

Descendants of the final generation of ‘brown sahibs’, direct heirs to the British colonial legacy, and denizens of exclusive enclaves insulated from ground realities tenaciously cling to the status quo.

They resist novel ideas and changes that challenge their established beliefs and tranquillity. Their affluence, position, and privilege owe everything to the benevolence of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

These champions of the 'Idea of India' peruse prestigious publications like The Washington Post, New York Times, and The Economist, anxiously concerned about western public perceptions and narratives. 

Their historical perspective is confined to the era of the Mughals, and for them, Rahul, courtesy of his illustrious last name, assumes the role of their final emperor. The fact that he is half-European further contributes to their perception and allegiance.

2. The Dinosaur Club Factor

A certain cohort has perennially seen themselves as the repository of all wisdom and influence, maintaining a stronghold in the halls of power regardless of the ruling authority.

As it increasingly became apparent that the venerators of the Ancien Regime were no longer indispensable for dispensing their esteemed experience and counsel, the stark reality of a new era set in.

Each triumph of Narendra Modi's government, for them, becomes a piercing dagger that personally twists their innards, further diminishing their significance in the evolving narrative.

3. Hindu In Name Only Factor

Among the Hindu affluent many have spent generations distancing and disengaging themselves from their roots in their desire to find a place in the tight incestuous clubs of the Nehru-Indira era. 

This segment often undermines their own, in history books, in films, in stand-up comedies, in so called avante-garde art and dislike Narendra Modi intensely, who is a constant reminder to them of their capitulation.

4. Business As Usual Factor

Strikingly, whether interacting with the affluent or the working class, a common thread surfaced among Congress supporters, creating a scenario where individuals from both social strata seemed to harbour similar considerations when it came to ‘earning a livelihood’.

During the UPA years from 2004 to 2014, the individuals revelling in unprecedented contentment were a section of the Indian contractors, traders, businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians. As were many doctors, lawyers, architects happy to work undetected on slips.

The prevalence of hard cash effortlessly resolved most issues, as a pervasive culture of mutual favours flourished. They engaged in reciprocal back-scratching, and their satisfaction knew no bounds. The prevailing sentiment was an aversion to any alterations; nobody desired a departure from the existing order.

However, the landscape changed dramatically with the advent of demonetisation and the integration of Aadhaar with Pan Card, ultimately linked to bank accounts. The revelry abruptly ceased, both in reality and metaphorically. 

The subsequent streamlining and heightened scrutiny gave rise to emotions of bitterness, animosity, and an overwhelming sense of infuriation. For this particular group, the promise of returning to the bygone era became a tempting prospect, with Rahul's Congress seen as the herald of those nostalgic times.

5. Minority Vote Factor

Minorities across every economic strata will mostly only vote for the Congress no matter who leads it, all past communal riots and pogroms forgotten and forgiven. It must be said, however, that those who don't, expose themselves to derision from their own and many a time risk to life and limb.

Although the minority communities benefit equally, or even in greater proportion, from every government scheme, a Congress win represents a return to a privileged position they are not keen to share with anyone.

Thus, a Hindu resurgence synonymous with Narendra Modi’s BJP worries them, and the anti-Hindu Congress stance is appealing. That, by the way, is their definition of “secularism”.

6. The Instant Gratification Freeloader Factor

A floating vote bank that sways towards whoever promises free electricity, water, public transport etc, etc. They learn no lessons from other electorates that have been previously used and cheated.

That being noted, most segments (except perhaps segments 5 and 6) have experienced a discernible contraction since 2020. It is increasingly common to encounter reluctant admirers of Modi in these circles.

The allure of cruising on six-lane highways, the success of Vande Bharat, the surging GDP growth, the transformed landscape of conducting business, the monumental developments in Kashi and the realisation of the Ram Mandir, and India's elevated standing on the global stage — all contribute to an irresistible appeal. Resisting the pull of the extraordinary has indeed become a formidable challenge.

But at the end of it what is going to demolish these pockets of loyalty and self-preservation is:

The Modi Factor

Undoubtedly, the transformative force behind the political shift in 2014 was the middle-class juggernaut, propelling Narendra Modi into office. This group decisively sidelined those still reliant on Congress handouts, and the self-centred wealthy who prioritised their interests above all else.

Recognising Modi as their representative, they seized the opportunity presented. Fast forward to today, a decade later where although this middle class may harbour some grievances, but nevertheless it is poised to, once again, play a pivotal role in bringing Narendra Modi back to office. 

This time, however, they will have the support of the once marginalised and impoverished who have benefitted enormously from numerous government schemes but not forgotten how till recently they were repeatedly betrayed with hollow slogans such as ‘Garibi Hatao’.

For them, Modi signifies the leader who shattered barriers of class and caste, an individual who unlocked avenues for their aspirations and dreams. 

What sets Modi apart is his commitment to fulfilling a comprehensive list of promises, demonstrating a rare dedication to delivering on the expectations of a diverse and aspirational India.

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