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Gujarat assembly elections a crucial test for Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi has been trying to directly take on PM Narendra Modi, and the Prime Minister has pitched the elections as a contest between dynasty and development.

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Oct 27, 2017 13:35 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Gujarat elections,Congress
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with OBC leader Alpesh Thakor (Left) at a rally in Gandhinagar. (Siddharaj Solanki / HT Photo)

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi might have gained much traction on social media over his tongue-in-cheek tweets and sharp public speeches, but his leadership skills will be put to test in the upcoming Gujarat elections.

The battle for the throne of Ahmedabad has turned interesting with the Congress back into the political reckoning in the BJP-ruled state after 22 years.

By raising the issues of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) in his Gujarat campaign, Rahul has been trying to directly take on PM Narendra Modi. For his part, Modi has pitched the December elections as a contest between dynasty and development.

The war of words has virtually turned it into a Rahul versus Modi battle, though both sides had initially maintained that the polls would be fought on local issues.

“It is, in reality, a fight between the people of Gujarat and the BJP. It is no longer a battle of leaderships and personalities but a battle of yearning for change and real development,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

But political analysts say it was bound to happen due to the leadership crisis at the state level in both the parties. “The star campaigner for Congress is Rahul and BJP’s CM is not that popular. The BJP in Gujarat and other states has been solely dependent on Modi,” said Sanjay Kumar of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

In the past several months, Rahul has been leading the Congress from the front with party chief Sonia Gandhi taking a backseat. While the lack of a credible face in Gujarat has put the entire burden on Rahul to guide the Congress to victory, the party is fighting the November 9 elections in Himachal Pradesh under six-time CM Virbhadra Singh.

Congress leaders maintain that the recent events suggested that their party was on the road to revival and the signs started coming soon after Rahul’s speeches in the United States, especially his interaction with students of University of California, Berkeley.

These speeches appeared to have struck a chord with his party colleagues, who insisted that Rahul has managed to correct the perception most people had of him.

“He espouses the pain and sufferings of the people in his speeches and on social media. The resonance that you see is because he is speaking the people’s language,” Surjewala said.

But Kumar disagrees. “I don’t see any noticeable change in the way Rahul is handling the party or the way he is trying to contest against the BJP or Modi,” he said.

Kumar said Rahul had already faced the litmus test in Uttar Pradesh and other states earlier this year since he, and not Sonia, was the face of the party. “For all practical purposes, he is heading the party,” he said.

Another political expert, professor Balveer Arora, said Rahul’s active involvement in Gujarat would certainly motivate party workers. “The Congress will locally get little more upbeat. It will become fighting fit and stem the rot by checking defections,” he said.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 22:43 IST