Is Congress scoring a self goal with its 'Gadkari' strategy?

Over the past couple of weeks Nitin Gadkari has been making news. For a person who never hit the headlines despite presiding over a ministry that has notched up the maximum brownie points since 2014, the minister for Surface Transport has taken up more surface area in the dailies since the New Year for reasons that aren’t exactly cause for euphoria within his party.

Gadkari is reportedly an angry man, his ire directed at the duopoly that helms the ruling party and the country. His comment that ‘one who cannot manage his home cannot manage the country’ reportedly caused much more than a ripple as reports suggested that both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah aren’t on talking terms with the minister.

It was considered a direct attack on Modi and his estranged (or is it divorced) wife though Gadkari took pains later to clarify. But, nobody was listening as the Congress went to town with the remark, their social media handles going berserk overnight and eventually resulting in a direct confrontation between Rahul Gandhi and Gadkari when the former congratulated him for being the ‘only courageous minister’ in the ruling party.

In fact, the BJP’s IT cell was perplexed over a picture from the Republic Day celebrations that showed the two leaders sharing some personal moments at the parade. They released the picture without the usual description beneath and without comment on social media platforms. Once again, the Congress went into overdrive!

Gadkari appeared to be trolling his leader post the assembly election losses with the statement that he doesn’t fool people by showing them dreams. ‘I always do what I promise,’ he thundered, before adding that commitments to people need to be fulfilled if leaders seek to remain in the hearts and minds of their electorate.

Once again, the Congress appeared to be elated and went to town attempting to showcase a ‘rift’ in the ruling party. Of course, there have been several instances of Gadkari being sidelined by the Modi-Shah command centre including the cancellation of his planned investment road shows in Canada and the United States last year as well as his address to the World Hindu Congress at Chicago last September.

All of this may be true or the figment of someone’s imagination. The question is what prompted the Congress to jump on to this bandwagon? They cheered lustily when Gadkari presented his ministry’s status report in Parliament. They went to town with each of his remarks that they saw as targeting the emperor.

But, for what purpose?

Does the grand old party of India need internecine rivalry to counter the ruling party? Having gone to town with secularism and an economic policy steeped in socialistic ideals, what is the Congress hoping to achieve with their playing the chorus to Gadkari’s ‘Ekla Chalo’ solo, ostensibly supported by the RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat?

For now, there isn’t any visible opposition to Modi, thanks to Shah wielding the CBI willow with telling effect. There may be a few murmurs as from Devendra Fadnavis who claimed that it was time for a Maharashtrian to assume the PM’s chair or a stray comment from some RSS functionary about the state of the economy or the lack of jobs etc. NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s statement claiming he fears for Gadkari’s life appears at best an attempt to gain a last-minute penalty against a rampaging opponent.

Can Rahul Gandhi and his campaign managers clarify what they have in mind by barking up this tree? Scoring brownie points? Telling the people that there is discord within the ruling party? If that’s so, how can we as voters perceive the Congress (under Rahul) as any different from the BJP or even its own previous avatars since Independence? The party, which split several times since its inception cannot really go to town with dissidence in the BJP. For once, it is not going to cut any ice with the fence-sitters during a close election.

They’d be better served by going after issues that really affect the person-on-the-street – be it the long lines after demonetization, the high cost of petrol despite tanking global oil prices, the loss of jobs and the lack of new jobs in the economy, the slowing inflow of capital into the country and the bear market that seems to have gripped investors etc.

Because, if they insist on playing chorus to Gadkari, it is only going to benefit one party. And that is definitely not going to be the Congress.