In all the fuss over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s so-called new-found aggression, we seem to have lost sight of what is really going on.
Manmohan Singh is not being aggressive about the Left, which he hates with passion. (And the sentiment is reciprocated — at least by Prakash Karat). He is not being aggressive about Pakistan, which continues to send terrorists across the border. He is only being aggressive about L K Advani.
Nor is he alone in this. Sonia Gandhi, who is normally not an aggressive person, has gone for Advani with unusual ferocity. Even Rahul Gandhi, who prefers to talk about policy rather than individuals, attacks Advani on a regular basis.
Does anyone really believe that this is all coincidental? That Manmohan Singh’s aggression is merely the anger of a patient man who has finally had enough? That the Gandhis have suddenly decided to behave uncharacteristically and to personally target the man who would be Prime Minister?
The combined, three-pronged attack on Advani is a tactical move designed to help the Congress at many levels. And the signs are that it is working brilliantly.
Let it be said that none of the individuals concerned thinks much of Advani. Manmohan Singh has long been upset by the personal nature of the attacks Advani has made on him. Sonia thinks that Advani is a hypocrite and a humbug. And Rahul has little patience with his brand of politics.
But the combined attacks on Advani at so many public fora have yielded enormous strategic advantages to the Congress. One: they have shut Advani up. When was the last time you heard him criticising Manmohan Singh? Two: by saying that Advani’s attacks on Manmohan showed disrespect for the office of Prime Minister, Sonia has conveyed her respect for Manmohan Singh’s stature and prevented the BJP from continuing to portray the PM as a stooge or a cipher.
Three: by making Manmohan Singh the issue, the Congress has totally diverted attention from the question of dynasty. The BJP went into this campaign determined to attack Rahul and to claim that he would take over as PM within two years of the election if the Congress won. But neither Rahul nor dynasty are issues in this election.
Four: the Congress is not fighting this election on its own record. It is fighting it on Advani’s record. BJP spokesmen are now scurrying around to explain the surrender at Kandahar and to defend the Iron Man’s actions. This is a bizarre turnaround. Oppositions are meant to attack; governments to defend. But now, the tables have been turned.
How much of this is strategy? And how much of it is spontaneous? It is a little of both. The Congress is not as organised as the BJP. So there is no war room. And there are no strategy sessions.
But equally the coordinated nature of the attacks suggests that some thinking went into the decisions. Perhaps it was as simple as Sonia saying to Manmohan Singh: “Look, this has gone far enough. Let’s tell this guy where to get off”. Or perhaps it was a little more complicated.
Either way the tactic has worked. The Congress has set the agenda. And Advani does not know how to respond.