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Rahul Gandhi made an allegation a few days ago that PM Modi had received kickbacks from Birla and Sahara group companies. He was pointing to the evidence in Birla / Sahara diaries case which Prashant Bhushan is currently pursuing in Supreme Court. BJP was quick to rebut the charges as its tallest leader had been attacked. Its spokespersons highlighted the fact that the S. Court had termed the evidence produced as frivolous.
Prashant is believed to have submitted fresh documents and the case comes up for hearing in early January next year. Modi and Rahul continued to take jibes at each other in rallies in the following days in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Rahul too has not let go his efforts and has in-fact upped the ante.
Why has Rahul started to attack Modi? I list here four principal reasons:
While majority of the public is supporting the note ban move of the govt., in the same breath even hard core supporters admit that the implementation has been tardy. Flip-flops on notifications, almost a new rule daily, mismanagement of funds in banks, expose of corruption in banks and long queue at ATMs have not gone down well with people.
With economists and experts suggesting that the shortage of cash and inconvenience could continue for few months beyond Dec. 30 deadline promised by Modi, Congress smells a chance here. For the first time in 2.5 years Congress believes Modi govt. has erred and made a self-goal. It feels that popularity of Modi would decline due to rural distress, negative impact on small traders / daily wage earners and decline in economic growth.
In this case, former air chief has been arrested and according to reports he has pointed to involvement of PMO. Case diaries in Italian court point to pay offs to certain family and AP which BJP alleges is Gandhi family and their close aide Ahmad Patel. Congress strategists point out that if diary noting in Birla / Sahara case can’t be construed as evidence, how can arms dealer diary be treated as sound evidence. Both parties playing the perception war in public.
Both of them know that this evidence is similar to Jain Hawala case and Indian courts unlike Italian courts can’t pronounce judgment based on the same. That’s why both of them trying to gain maximum mileage. While Modi has a clean image Gandhi family has been embroiled in many controversies earlier like Bofors and National Herald. Even if courts allow investigation it could hurt Modi’s image. At the same time, Congress has to be wary that the more they attacked him on Godhra in the past, he emerged as stronger and popular.
Rahul has been tipped to replace Sonia as Congress President for some time now. However, his coronation has been delayed. Sources point out that he feels he is not ready yet for the post. However, delay is also attributed to old guard in the party pitching for Priyanka. Many close aides of Sonia feel Rahul doesn’t have it in him to take Gandhi family mantle along. Reports of his cold war with the old guard have appeared in media many times.
With the crucial UP polls approaching, even newly hired strategist Prashant Kishore wants Priyanka to play a key role. Rahul through these attacks on Modi also is aiming to establish himself as the heir to Sonia and one who can take on Modi.
Elections are due in 5 states early next year – UP, Uttarakhand (UK), Goa, Punjab and Manipur. 2016 was pretty bad for Congress as it lost two of its state governments in Assam and Kerala. Of these 5 states Congress holds 2 (Manipur / Uttarakhand), BJP 2 (Punjab / Goa) and UP is ruled by regional party SP. As per opinion polls BJP is on its way out in Punjab while it could make inroads in Manipur. Goa and UK are too close to call.
The crucial state is UP and Congress is trying to stitch a mahagathbandhan on the lines of Bihar. Congress would like to stop BJP from coming back in power in UP. A loss in 2nd successive Hindi heartland could spell trouble for BJP. BJP and its partners have 104 MPs (30% of total NDA strength) from these two states. Congress is banking on demonetization, consolidation of Muslims / Yadavs and Akhilesh’s clean image to sail it through.
To conclude, for the first time in 2.5 years of Modi rule I have seen Rahul to be so aggressive. A setback in Punjab and UP could as well set the stage for downfall of the Modi govt. It remains to be seen whether this strategy of Rahul works or not in coming state polls. Till then more barbs to continue….