Ill thought remarks by Cong leaders will not help the party

Leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar and Kapil Sibal appear to have become the nemesis for the opposition Congress in the Gujarat assembly elections. A campaign built up painstakingly by the Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi in the western state seems to have lost momentum, crucially days before the voting. The sheer frustration of being in the opposition could be one possible explanation for the unsavoury comments made by both Aiyar and Sibal. By the looks of it, it may have given Narendra Modi a big handle to beat the Congress with. The swift suspension as a damage control exercise notwithstanding, Aiyar’s reference to the low caste or modest beginnings of Modi has the potential to damage the Congress. The party had assiduously wooed a section of Patidars led by Hardik Patel that appeared to be making a dent into the BJP vote bank. Similarly, a section of other backward castes (OBCs) were also being motivated to join hands with the Congress, with the 22-year-old BJP government in the state already facing stiff anti-incumbency. The Congress had, after a long time, seized the campaign initiative after embracing ‘soft Hindutva’, breaking away from minority appeasement. Aiyar and Sibal’s untimely – not to mention intemperate - remarks seem to have punctured the Congress campaign in Gujarat that was threatening to disturb a tentative Narendra Modi in his backyard. Aiyar’s use of ‘neech’ pointed indirectly at Modi’s ghanchi caste. How it goes down with the Gujarat electorate will be evident on December 18, the day of the Gujarat results. This is not the first time that this former diplomat has resorted to such sweeping comments. He had had in 2014 said that the Congress would prevent a chai wala from becoming prime minister. In what can be only described as unbridled arrogance, Aiyar had said – repeatedly - that Modi should be happy to serve tea to members of the Congress Working Committee. That boomeranged on the party big time. Kapil Sibal, a renowned lawyer, former HRD minister and chief spokesperson for Congress, has contributed in his own way to disrupt the opposition campaign by seeking postponement of hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi case till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Though Sibal was representing the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, his demand has become a potent weapon in the hands of the BJP leadership that immediately pounced on the Congress, seeking clarity on its stand vis-à-vis the Masjid – Mandir issue. The justification offered by the two leaders appears to be lame and the damage done to the Congress campaign is immense. Rahul Gandhi may have to bear with more such frustrated leaders seeking the limelight and a prominent role in the party – all at the cost of the Congress.