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Questionable Alternative

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Thus far, Rahul Gandhi’s only success is that he is being assumed by everybody to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alternative. This may just be reflex action on the part of the media, as they need an adversary in the story, but there has also been some conscious planning put into this by the Congress spin masters. Of course, his being the leader and projected prime ministerial candidate of the only other ‘national’ party has also got a lot to do with it. The BJP is, on the whole, pretty happy with this state of affairs because – despite his ‘improved’ performance – Gandhi is nowhere in the same league. His frequent challenge to Modi for one-on-one debates is quite like his challenging Roger Federer to ‘fifteen minutes on the tennis court’. Neither Modi nor Federer is likely to oblige.
The performance of the Congress is likely to improve over the dismal forty-four seats it has in the present Lok Sabha, but by how much? Its hope is most in seats where there is a straight fight with the BJP. However, this is exactly where the election will take on the form of a straight referendum for the PM’s post. This is how the projection of Rahul Gandhi will backfire, as local issues that could have favoured the party will be largely overlooked. Uttarakhand is a case in point, where the performance of incumbent MPs is low on voters’ priorities. It is just about being for or against Modi.
Had there been the kind of ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of the opposition being envisaged earlier involving all the parties, the prime ministerial candidate could have been somebody with greater credibility. This would have posed a bigger challenge to the BJP, but would have sidelined Rahul Gandhi. Quite obviously, the ‘real’ plan is for the General Elections to follow the present one, when age will have caught up with Modi.
An unfortunate consequence for the Congress in the ongoing contest will be its virtual elimination from states where it has not been able to come to an understanding with other opposition parties. This will narrow down its base, making it even more difficult to make a comeback, either this time or the next. Considering all these factors and as matters stand now, the prospects for, both, the Congress and Gandhi, seem bleak. And perceptions have not improved with the selection of a Muslim majority constituency in Kerala as a safe seat, no matter what kind of a spin is put on that. It is clearly a battle for survival, instead of a bid for victory.