It was a telling tale on the rise of Mr Gandhi’s stature as an Opposition leader
If there was one thing the Indian democracy needed, but was missing for over eight-and-a-half years, it was a battle of equals in Parliament, where Prime Minister and leader of the nation, Narendra Modi, had someone equaling the status of a political, even if not an electoral, rival.
That wish of the Indian democracy was fulfilled when Rahul Gandhi, who is neither the president of the Indian National Congress nor the leader of the Opposition, first earned the right to challenge Prime Minister Modi, and have a direct face-off, and be treated as a rival of stature by walking from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Rahul Gandhi, with new found confidence and stature — with the proof of hardships borne showing in the form of an unkempt beard in place — began by attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Adani issue; accusing him of using his influence to help Gautam Adani grow his wealth exponentially through deals favouring him not only in India, but in other countries also, particularly Australia and Israel.
Earlier, Mr Gandhi had raised the bogey of corruption in big deals when he accused the Modi government of helping Anil Ambani in defence deals, in particular, the Rafale deal, by influencing the French government. But the Chowkidar Chor Hain campaign undertaken by the Congress did not yield any electoral result or make any dent in the reputation of PM Modi.
It was a telling tale on the rise of Mr Gandhi’s stature as an Opposition leader that unlike in the past, Prime Minister Modi took his speech seriously enough to launch a broad-scale counterattack, even if those had to be expunged for lack of backing up with evidence. Unlike on the previous occasions, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi merely needed to accept the allegations, claiming, ‘Main hoon Chowkidar’, even as Mr Gandhi’s allegations proved to have no heft, and the irony of it not only was the increased majority of the ruling BJP in the 2019 elections, but the subsequent bankruptcy of the businessman on whom the allegations of corruption were made showed the relative lack of gravitas of the case made by the Congress.
In fact, before the Budget session, it was very clear that while PM Modi had many rivals who wished to have a face-off with him, almost no one seemed to have all the boxes ticked to deserve it.
But it changed when Mr Gandhi, fresh from the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Parliament during the ongoing Budget Session. His speech and his attack were not dismissed, and instead, the BJP, led by Modi himself, led the counterattack. This exchange between the leader of the nation and government, and the leader of the Opposition, were badly missed for years in our Parliament.
The jury was quick to return on the Modi-Rahul face-off though; while Mr Gandhi made a passionate plea and a strong case, Mr Modi won the day for his party, and his government, by showcasing why he is still without equals in the eventual battle of narratives, and in any count, has greater credibility than any modern Indian leader.
Clearly, Rahul has toughened a lot, but Modi is made of sterner stuff.