The BJP has lost no time in proving to the world that every word Rahul Gandhi said in Cambridge about the decline of Indian democracy was true. It has since then not allowed him to speak in Parliament, had him convicted in what is clearly a command performance, disqualified him and expelled him from Parliament with an alacrity reserved only for Opposition legislators. In the process, it has also obtained two collateral benefits on the side -- ensured the passing of the Finance Bill without any discussion in 12 minutes flat (perhaps a record in our history), and stone-walled any discussion on Narendra Modi's friend.
The action against Rahul Gandhi is just part of its strategy to take out all opposition leaders, one by one, and ensure an Opposition-mukt Bharat before the 2024 general elections. Any party can win an election, but how many can do that even before the votes are cast ? Mayawati, Mamata Bannerjee, Akhilesh, YSR and Navin Patnaik have been silenced into various stages of pharyngitis; Kejriwal, Tejaswi, Soren are already in the coils of the anaconda. Nitish Kumar remains an electoral enigma and can, like a grass-hopper, jump either way. Rahul Gandhi was the only national leader of stature who, like Oliver Twist, would not abide by this script.
The latest instance of the hounding of Rahul Gandhi appears to have finally convinced the coy PMs-in-waiting in the Opposition that the moment of reckoning has arrived: they now either hang together or they hang separately, in various jails in BJP ruled states, not their luxurious farm houses. They appear to have finally realised that to become Prime Minister the sine-qua-non is to stay out of jail, and the only way to ensure that is to take the keys of the kingdom away from the jailor.
The BJP's second blunder is in retaining their delusion that Rahul Gandhi is still a "Pappu." He never was one, but they had manufactured this canard with the help of a media and had managed to sell it to the people. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has shattered that misconception to smithereens; the speech in Parliament on Modani and the calibrated concerns about India's democracy expressed in the UK have further demolished that lie.
The Modi-Shah duo appear to have misread this changing public perception and are still going by their old toolkit. Having more or less demolished most of the other regional satraps, or at least intimidated them into silence, they have now let loose their heavy artillery on the one remaining Opposition redoubt- Rahul Gandhi himself: sink him and 2024 is theirs. Pappu has moved on in the last six months and, rather than being a force that divided the opposition in the past, he now has tremendous potential for uniting them.
But - and this is the most important part - the Congress must eschew the notion that it can now take on the BJP on its own. It cannot. It needs the others, just as they need it. The humility of the Bharat Jodo Yatra must now translate into the realpolitik of the elections: the sharing of turf with others, the admission of weakness in certain states, the willingness to take a back seat in those states. The Congress is a national party, yes, but it is also a regional party in vast swathes of the country, and must accept this. It must concede, for example, that Samajwadi party has to be the lead player in UP, TMC in Bengal, JDU-RJD in Bihar, KCR in Telangana, and so on, and do a seat sharing in these states on their terms.
The others need to realise that the Congress is the largest regional party in the country, and must reciprocate the sentiments where the Congress is the stronger force. By any reckoning it is the primary opposition to the BJP in nine states -- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Assam, Gujarat and Karnataka, which provide 190 seats to the Lok Sabha. It should keep its powder dry for these states and if it does well in them (last time it lost 95% of these seats to the BJP) it will automatically emerge as the natural leader of any post election coalition. The Congress can certainly improve its tally now but the regional parties are the key.
In fact, Modi has a monumental dilemma on his hands: he has to decide whether Rahul Gandhi is more dangerous in jail or on the streets. He would not have forgotten Indira Gandhi's comeback in similar circumstances. To be sure, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.