OPINION | Rahul and Priyanka Must Rein in Congress Motor-mouths, Get Post-Airstrikes Act Together
Post-surgical strike and the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Congress has begun speaking in different voices, getting the BJP a plank on how the party has a habit of questioning matters of national security.
File photo of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. (PTI)
Lok Sabha elections 2019 are likely to be announced sometime this week, but the Congress and combined opposition still lack a piercing strategy to take on the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.
Until February 14, the opposition story was looking bright, but the spotlight on national security and Pakistan has put the opposition on the back-foot. Regional outfits like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress are happy attacking the prime minister, seeking evidence of air strikes in Pakistan, while the Congress is beginning to speak in divergent, in-coherent fashion. The recent remarks by Digvijaya Singh, Salman Khurshid, Manish Tiwari and others are a reminder of the 2012-2014 motor-mouth syndrome that saw senior UPA ministers and Congress functionaries committing hara-kiri.
In present-day Congress, debates and deliberations on key national issues have become a thing of a past. One wonders why the Congress Working Committee has not been re-convened after its February 28 meet was postponed. Ditto is the case of a press conference by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that was scheduled for February 14. There is no plausible reason why the newly appointed party general secretary, known for her oratory prowess, has gone into silent mode.
The CWC meet, which was scheduled to be held at Ahmedabad, would have given the party leaders a sense of direction on what to say and not to say on current Indo-Pak relations, Balakot, Rafale and a range of contemporary issues. It is baffling why Rahul-Priyanka are making the “wise council” over-crowded, yet defunct. It is indeed a sad commentary for a grand old party, constantly lamenting the downfall of institutions, has little regard for its own, in-house institutions such as a non-existent Congress Parliamentary Board and, to a lesser extent, the CWC.
Post-surgical strike and the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Congress has begun speaking in different voices, getting the BJP a plank on how the main opposition party has a habit of questioning matters of national security.
As expected, Digvijaya Singh has taken centre-stage, shooting in all directions. He has lauded Pakistan PM Imran Khan who, in Congress’s internal assessment, is a puppet in the hands of the Pakistan army. Singh has gone a step further, seeking proof of the air strikes. In his home state Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is hoping to win at least half of 29 parliamentary seats as against the present tally of three, the BJP has launched a frontal attack on ‘Diggy Raja’ as Digvijaya is popularly known. Led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the BJP on Sunday, held rallies across the state describing Digvijaya as a “blot”. Chouhan has accused Digvijaya of speaking the “language of Pakistan”.
The question that begs answer is whether Digvijaya’s utterances are part of the Congress narrative? If the Congress indeed wishes to question the Indian Air Force’s forays deep inside Pakistan territory, why is Rahul Gandhi not leading from the front? More importantly, has the grand old party taken cognizance of the ground-level sentiments where common citizens on streets across the country were seen distributing sweets, dancing and celebrating. It can be argued that as an opposition party, the Congress is within its rights to question the Modi government. Assuming that it is fair query, a poll-bound political party needs to come up with a structured, measured response.
The otherwise sober and sensible Salman Khurshid appears to be totally out of sync. As if trying to upstage Digvijaya Singh, the former external affairs minister had claimed that IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman earned his flying badge in 2004 and “matured” as a fighter pilot during the UPA rule.
Khurshid went on, insisting that he had only “stated the truth”. “I had said that he (the Wing Commander) joined the IAF during our tenure. I had only stated the truth,” Khurshid told reporters.
Some Congress watchers also wonder why Rahul-Priyanka are not eyeing cousin Feroze Varun Gandhi with interest. After all, Gandhis are on the lookout for faces in Uttar Pradesh and inducted Bahraich MP Savitri Bai Phule from the BJP and former Samajwadi Party MP from Fatehpur Rakesh Sachan in the party. Is Varun not worth having a look or is there some other aspect blocking his entry into the Congress?
(The author is visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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