Rahul Campaigns in Gujarat to Spark New Life in Cong Fight, But Fire of 2017 Seems to Have Burnt Out


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It was a slice of Bharat Jodo Yatra at the debut rally by Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat. The look, the hoardings, and even the speech were more about the yatra than the actual elections. Rahul Gandhi though did raise issues that mattered to the people in the region.

Congress hoardings ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s campaign. Pic/News18

In Surat district, Rahul at the rally stressed on the adivasi issue. It’s this and the rural vote bank that worked for the Congress in 2017. In fact, in this belt, the Congress won 28 seats while the Bharatiya Janata Party lost out with its tally coming down to 19 from 30.

In Rajkot, Rahul Gandhi stressed on unemployment and education, and the Morbi incident. He touched upon education matters as many cases of paper leaks during exams is an issue that students here are sore about.

The speeches were predictable. Targeting corporates, talking about the divisive nature of the BJP, Rahul Gandhi pitched for the Bharat Jodo Yatra, explaining in detail the motive behind the journey. He has avoided campaigning in Himachal Pradesh, focusing on the yatra. But with the Aam Aadmi Party coming into the scene and with Rahul having run an aggressive campaign in 2017, which led to a good performance by the Congress, he stepped out of the yatra to step in for campaigning.

But the fire of 2017 was clearly missing. First, the party has lost many leaders to either the BJP or AAP. Second, there are many leaders micromanaging the campaign, which has clouded the strategy. Also, the poster boys of 2017, the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani, who were Rahul Gandhi’s ‘tridev’, to use his words, are pretty much missing. They had added zing to the 2017 campaign. Two of them have now left the Congress.

But interestingly, and as a part of the party strategy, Rahul Gandhi steered clear of any personal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He did not mention him by name either. The attacks were on the BJP as a whole. He accused the party of not caring for people and of promoting unemployment. And, in fact, in towns like Surat where business is a way of profession, Rahul Gandhi raised the GST and demonetisation issues.

Following the “Maut ka saudagar” gaffe by Sonia Gandhi in 2007, the Congress has realised that such attacks on Modi help him. Mistakes like calling the PM “neech”, and teaching him his place, would only help the BJP. Hence, Rahul Gandhi stayed away from mentioning the PM and did not even counter his attacks on the yatra. It was left to Jairam Ramesh to defend the yatra and take on the PM.

Rahul Gandhi is likely to be back at the end of the month to campaign again. But the two campaigns have not added much to the state of the Congress Gujarat unit, which is dispirited. For Rahul Gandhi, the campaign seemed like a job he was expected to do. The soul and fire of 2017 were missing.

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