Rahul Gandhi picked “Rafale" as his main poll plank in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but failed as the electorate rejected his “Chowkidar chor hai" war cry against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This time, for 2024, Rahul Gandhi has picked a new poll plank — “Adani".
Gandhi’s long address in Parliament on Wednesday during the discussion on the Presidential address made it clear that his main issue for next year’s elections is going to be businessman Gautam Adani. Much of his address was focussed on Adani. The effort in 2019, and now in 2024, of Rahul Gandhi remains the same — to stick some taint of corruption or favouritism on Narendra Modi.
However, there is a hitch here that may blunt the narrative that Gandhi is trying to build against the government. Many states ruled by the Congress and other BJP rivals are also in big business with the Adani Group. The BJP, in fact, is set to attack Rahul Gandhi on this front, daring him to direct the Congress chief ministers in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to snap all their investment ties with the Adani Group.
“Chowkidar chor hai" thundered Rahul Gandhi from the stage in rallies in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh in November 2018, to raise the alleged Rafale scam and accuse Modi of corruption and favouritism in the deal to buy the Rafale fighters from France. While the Congress did win those state elections, there was a full reversal of fortunes in the 2019 general elections.
Modi decided to take Rahul head-on and the BJP rolled out its poll slogan “Main bhi chowkidar" to back the Prime Minister. Modi asked the electorate if they believed that he could do anything wrong in a defence deal struck directly with another government. “The electorate refused to digest Rahul’s charge that Modi was corrupt. It was summarily rejected at the voting booth," a top BJP leader said.
The Rafale acquisition has since proved to be a key national security asset, given the tensions that erupted with China in 2020. Rahul Gandhi had tried to reverse the game of 2014 when UPA was brought down on a plank of corruption scams, but this charge did not stick on Modi. The Supreme Court, later in 2021, gave a clean chit to the Modi government in the Rafale deal, ending that chapter.
Adani and 2024
A year ahead of the 2024 elections, the Hindenburg report on the Adani Group has come as a blessing for the Congress which has been searching for a narrative against the Modi government. Rahul’s charge in Parliament on Wednesday mainly revolved around linking Adani’s rise in fortunes to Modi becoming the PM in 2014 and cited their old links from Gujarat. The BJP kept objecting to this.
Like the BJP did in Parliament pre-2014 regarding corruption scams such as 2G and Coalgate, the UPA is now demanding a joint parliamentary committee (CPC) probe into the Adani issue. The BJP is dead against it, saying the exposure of government entities like LIC and SBI is less than 1% in the Adani Group and the matter is in no way connected to the government or the public sector at large.
In fact, the BJP will be strongly raising the point that both Congress-ruled and opposition-ruled states are in business with the Adani Group and it is a classic case of doublespeak by them. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had rolled out the red carpet for Adani at a state investor summit two months ago, causing discomfiture in the Congress ranks. BJP leaders are also fanning the point of an “international plot" against India with a short-seller’s report being taken as the “gospel truth" to negate the larger “India success story".
The Congress cites this to say that the BJP is defending Adani. Will “Adani" work for Rahul as an election plank in 2024 or suffer the same fate as Rafale in 2019? The jury is out.
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