Several commentators termed prime minister Narendra Modi’s attack on the Congress party in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday as a “warm up speech” for the Lok Sabha elections next year. Political innuendos notwithstanding, there is no denying the fact that Congress has had a chequered past and Modi, with his aggressive speech, has India’s main opposition party on the defensive. Corruption is one major blot that the Congress cannot wash off. But the BJP is battling charges too — that its pro-Hindu and ultra-nationalist thrust have fanned communal flames over the years. For their part, the Left parties cannot sidestep accusations of having played a questionable role during the 1962 war against China.
The truth, for the political parties, surely lies somewhere in between the extremes of perception — of being either totally villainous or extremely virtuous.
This is where Modi comes in — he understands the importance of perception and branding in the public space. The timing and issues raised by him are meant to inflict maximum damage on the opposition, especially now that it appears to be rearing its head. He has repeatedly targeted the Congress on corruption, dynastic rule and chipped away at its pre-eminent role in the freedom movement. Modi has attacked the Congress on these issues in one state assembly election after another, and is expected to continue doing so as he seeks another term in office for the BJP.
For the Congress this means its war room heads have to think up strategies for a counter attack against Modi. That may not be easy. Corruption, for instance, is one area where the Congress may have very little in defence irrespective of a few favourable court orders. The corrupt culture that was nurtured by the party during its years in power is now well documented. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine upset the superstructure that was built on this corruption.
Dynastic rule too has been a reality and the party was run arbitrarily. For several decades, the Congress appointed chief ministers on the whims and fancies of the party high command. In the hey-days of the Congress, chief ministers camped in Delhi for weeks for a darshan of their supreme leader, but more importantly be reassured that they were safe in the saddle.
In launching a major broadside against the Congress — a party that is struggling to make its political presence felt — in the hallowed precincts of Parliament, Modi made sure that he was looking his targets in the eye as he attacked them. However, political wisdom would indicate that for a party that once had deeply entrenched interests across the country, the Congress would fancy itself to be good for another fight. It also has another role, that of being the key rallying point for all non-BJP opposition parties. That should keep it in the hunt for that stray spark that will give it the firepower to hold off the BJP. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.