Politics is much about perception. Despite his conviction and sentencing and subsequent disqualification as MP, therefore, Rahul Gandhi has won the first round. For, he has garnered enough sympathy and support from all sections across political divide. The fact that as many as 15 opposition parties came together in his support proves that he has played a victim card successfully.
Leave aside the Opposition support for a moment, even a cursory conversation with people unconnected with politics will make you feel that Rahul has been rubbed the wrong way. “So many things are said in the heat and dust of electioneering. Rahul’s mention of Modi surname even in the worst of its connotation should not have been taken so seriously”, says Joginder Singh, a school teacher of Gurugram in Delhi’s neighborhood. It is vendetta politics, he adds, referring to Rahul’s disqualification as Lok Sabha member. This is how most people react in random talks over the matter.
Doubling down on Rahul Gandhi was the Government’s quick order to oust him from his allotted accommodation in Delhi. This nearly confirms the suspicion that the Congress leader is being deliberately targeted for his consistent frontal attack on Prime Minister Modi and his Government. It does no credit to the Government that an elected leader, a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, is treated in this manner for speaking his mind. True, no one has the right to fowl mouth anyone. More so the leaders and MPs who are expected to be torch bearers of what is known as ‘parliamentary language’ in their discourse. Nevertheless, a public censor could, perhaps, have been effective enough as punishment.
Now that the issue has gone far ahead, it is time to analyze its political fallout. By not going for appeal to a higher court almost a week after the Surat court verdict, the Congress party has gained much. Rahul’s conviction and disqualification is bound to become an immediate poll issue in Karnataka where the Assembly elections have been announced. The BJP/ NDA did not do spectacularly well in the state in 2018 polls when it polled a mere 36 per cent votes as against Congress’ 38 per cent. The JD(S) was in third position. It is only through defections that the BJP managed to form its government in the state.
For all one could guess at the moment, Rahul Gandhi could well be reinstated as MP if the Surat Court judgement is stayed by the higher court on appeal by the time the Karnataka polls are held. The Government and the ruling BJP will have to be on the backfoot on this issue as far as voter sentiment is concerned.
Whichever way one looks at it, the Modi Government and the BJP have given a handle to the Opposition by striking at Rahul Gandhi now. The Congress party, in particular, is likely to benefit electorally even in the parliamentary elections next year. It will be difficult for the Prime Minister to pronounce again a “Congress-mukt Bharat” he was so fond of mentioning not too long ago.
Much as the Government and the BJP may try to explain that they had nothing to do with Rahul’s conviction, sentencing and disqualification, the charge of complicity has stuck in public mind. Perception is far more powerful than reality in politics.