Sunday, September 8, 2013

Has PM played into BJP\'s hands with his Rahul for PM statement?

The BJP is loving the latest political development and especially the fact that it came about due to a statement from the unlikeliest person in the Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally turned out to be the person who made the parliamentary polls a clash of personalities – between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi – something the Congress had actively been trying to downplay in the run up to the next elections. The problem for Rahul Gandhi is that while he has effectively snubbed such suggestions from within and outside the party for the last several months, this comes from no less than the Prime Minister and is sure to raise the 'Rahul for PM' chorus once again. If that should happen, both Gandhi and his core strategists could find it difficult to deal with its obvious fallout. "I have always maintained that Rahul Gandhi would be an ideal choice for the PM post after 2014 elections (Lok Sabha). I will be very happy to work in the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi," Singh told reporters on his way to New Delhi after attending the G20 summit in the Russia. By making such a statement about six months ahead of the next parliamentary polls, Singh has indicated three things that are very important to his political future: Firstly, that he wouldn't really mind if his authority is further diminished from hereon. Secondly, that even if he is not in the running for a third term, he isn't seeking a dignified retirement post the 2014 elections but is willing to work in a subordinate position to Rahul Gandhi. What that possible role could be, nobody can say. Thirdly, Singh has proved that he is more deeply beholden to the Congress' first family than many supposedly hard boiled Congress leaders could ever claim to be. Now a direct faceoff between the two leaders? Singh had so far maintained suspense over his intention and availability to contest the 2014 elections for a third term as Prime Minister. In March, during another press conference while returning from Durban and asked about it, Singh had said, "These are all hypothetical questions. We will cross the bridge when we reach there". Later on the sidelines of a function at a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he had maintained that he wasn't ruling himself in or out of the PM sweepstakes. However, his 'Rahul for PM' statement could have major implications for the Congress and it will be difficult for leaders like Janardan Dwivedi to dismiss the statements as being personal in nature. Incidentally, Singh's statement came on the day when BJP's presumptive Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, speaking from a dais that featured a Red Fort replica in Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh, repeatedly taunted both Singh and Gandhi. At the rally, Modi mocked at Rahul and took on the Congress Vice President over his alleged statement that poverty is a state of mind. "Look at the irony, the one at whom Congress is looking as its saviour says that poverty is a state of mind. If that is the case then what happened to his grand mother Indira Gandhi's Garibi Hatao slogan? His grandmother would definitely be saddened by his utterances," Modi said. That was in the afternoon, hours before the Prime Minister rooted for Gandhi as the next PM. The Prime Minister's statement was an opportunity which Modi and his colleagues in the BJP seemed to have been waiting for and they were quick to pounce on it. "PM talks of happily working under Rahul Gandhi's leadership next year! Wasn't he doing the same all these years? Misleading the nation again?" Modi tweeted. Like Modi, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan too came down hard on the PM in two tweets: "Prime Minister of a great country like India says that he is ready to work 'under' somebody. Does it not lower the dignity of the apex post?." In another tweet, he said: "A PM resigned to his fate. Why wait then? There can be no hope for the governance, economy or polity of the country from such Government." BJP's deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Ravi Shankar Prasad also joined in. "The question is not who the prime minister wants to work under. The people of the country will have to decide if they are ready to accept Rahul Gandhi as prime minister," he said. The BJP had always wanted to make the upcoming elections a Modi versus Rahul contest. The only problem was that the Congress constantly played it down. Gandhi has been the most unwilling to be projected as the prime ministerial candidate against an aggressive challenger in the form of Modi. It would be worthwhile to recall what Gandhi had said on the issue at CII in April this year, which incidentally was his last major public interaction. He said those questions (about Prime Minister position) were "irrelevant" to him. "Press guys ask about marriage, PM, may be PM, may not be PM….. These are all irrelevant. This is all smoke. The only relevant question is how to give voice to people," he had said. The Congress Vice President had said he was in politics by accident. "Boss you have to be here…Its an accident of fate. I come from a chain of people, the DNA and put in this situation, boss you have to be here. We have to move," he said. "Jhansi Ki Rani was taken as hero but she was representative of millions of heroes. That was to show that one person couldn't be all important. I am irrelevant, one among the billion," Gandhi said. While reflecting on the emerging political situations, Singh reminded one of the old statement that "in many ways, a week in politics is sometimes an unusually long period of time". In the upcoming assembly elections in five states, Gandhi is likely to be leading the poll campaigns and it will only increase the clamour for him to take the mantle if the Congress should win in the 2014 national elections. The party's leaders and workers have an additional reason to elevate Gandhi quickly: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has not been in the best of health lately. Gandhi's challenger, Modi has already kick-started the poll campaign for the BJP in Chhatisgarh yesterday and will soon do the same in Rajasthan, He will be at the 'Suraj Sankalp rally' on 10 September in Jaipur, then he'll be at Madhya Pradesh to address the Karyakarta Mahakumbh on 25 September in Bhopal. Modi in his speech on Saturday targeted the Prime Minister by calling him "Doctor (Ph.d) of Rupee who put it on a ventilator in hospital", but by evening Singh proved that he was capable of much more, like adding some real spice to next the elections.

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