After his return from the nearly two-month-long political sabbatical on April 16, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been unsparing in his attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over issues concerning farmers, landless labourers, netizens, middle-class home buyers, fishermen, ex-servicemen, Dalits and now sanitation workers.
This appears clearly to be part of a grand strategy to reach out to different sections, that once comprised the support base of the Congress but which gradually shifted their loyalties to different parties, in a desperate bid to revive the party's sagging fortunes after its worst ever electoral defeat in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the case of striking sanitation workers in Delhi, Gandhi attacked the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had eaten into the Congress vote-bank in the assembly elections early this year. The Congress is desperately seeking to regain its space in Delhi from the AAP.
The new-found aggression by taking different communities into account has given a fresh lease of life to the Congress after a series of electoral setbacks. It appears to have regained some ground at least in Parliament where its aggressive tone on various issues, especially plight of farmers and the land acquisition bill, has put the BJP-led government on the defensive.
While Congress president Sonia Gandhi had led the Opposition from the front in the first part of the budget session, the second half saw a combative Rahul launch stinging attacks on the Modi government.
The Congress has already launched a countrywide agitation against the NDA government's policies on farm, land and labour reforms,
issues the party hopes will help reconnect with its eroding traditional support base. The party has maintained its opposition to the land bill was non-negotiable and it would go to any extent to ensure it is withdrawn and provisions of the original UPA law restored. It has vowed to champion the cause of tribals and forest dwellers both in Parliament and on the streets.
Rahul, too, has plunged headlong into the battle since his return with a countrywide padyatra that he launched from Vidarbha in
Maharashtra on April 30 to support the cause.
His advocating net neutrality was seen as an attempt at an image makeover as Rahul had so far chosen to stay away from all forms of
social media. Similarly, after the middle class completely deserted the Congress, Rahul's assurance to fight for their cause is clearly an attempt to seek rapprochement. Sonia had on many occasions in the past stressed the need to address the aspirations of the middle class.
The Dalit outreach has been planned in order to win back the support of the community which has shifted its allegiance to the Bahujan Samaj Party for years now. However, a major chunk of the Dalit vote bank both in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar gravitated towards the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A buoyed BJP is now eyeing Bihar, where assembly elections are due in September-October this year, and has stepped up its efforts to woo the Dalit and Mahadalit communities.
Also, Rahul's repeated "suit-boot ki sarkar" barbs at the Modi government has prompted many senior ministers to return the fire. Finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back, saying there is a "difference between a national duty and disappearance for a jaunt" and that theirs is a "soojh-boojh ki sarkar" (a wise government).