Omar Abdullah and Rahul Gandhi have been friends for long. They are of the same age, 48, and enjoy their current high positions in their respective parties because they are dynasts who have inherited their family’s commanding political legacies.
In January 2009, Rahul backed Omar to become the youngest chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, preferring him over his father Farooq Abdullah. He remained chief minister for six years because Congress remained consistent in its support to him.
At a function in October 2012 in Kashmir when the Congress-led UPA was ruling at the Centre and Omar was chief minister, Rahul recalled that the relationship between the two families goes back to the times of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah.
The National Conference (NC), headed by Omar, continues to be a prospective partner of the Congress-led coalition.
It thus becomes important for the Congress to introspect when Omar questions Rahul’s strategy to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “thief”.
Consider what Omar said at The Indian Express’Idea Exchange programme about the possibility of the Congress as the lead Opposition player, the mahagathbandhan (grand coalition) and Congress leaders’ rising tendency to call Modi names.
First, Omar said, “We need to guard against making personal attacks. Demeaning the prime minister allows him to shift the narrative to be a victim — whether it was Mani Shankar Aiyar’s comment or people saying that the prime minister is a thief.”
The Congress president has been consistently calling names to Modi, “Hindustan ka chowkidar chor hai”. PM “a chor” was Rahul Gandhi’s coinage to target Modi. Though the Congress leader had used various other derogatory words against Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat or since the time became prime minister but calling him a thief was taking the issue to an entirely new level.
The BJP initially reacted to Rahul’s usage of this name-calling for the prime minister, but now has stopped reacting to it. The ruling party perhaps thinks that this would prove to be counterproductive to the Congress. In successive Assembly elections, voters have rejected Rahul’s campaigns in which he has compared Modi to a modern-day dacoit Gabbar Singh.
Modi swung popular sentiments in last year’s Gujarat elections by responding to Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remark calling him “beech“. It remains to be seen whether Modi responds to Rahul’s “chor” remark against him in the coming Assembly elections in five states.
Second, Omar is right when he said, “somehow, the prime minister’s credibility is seen differently from the credibility of the BJP. When we attack the prime minister as a person, rather than the BJP as a party, we are actually helping him in this election campaign.”
Various opinion polls and results of Assembly elections clearly point to what Omar has said in public.
Third, his skepticism about the mahagath Bandhan was not unfounded.
“About the 2019 elections, I don’t think anybody knows what the heck is going to happen. It is such a fluid situation. Is a mahagath Bandhan going to happen? Who knows, what will Mayawati do in Uttar Pradesh, will Chandrababu Naidu succeed in rallying anti-BJP parties?” he remarked.
The most critical player in the proposed grand coalition, Mayawati, has decided to take a separate path and form her own front rather than being a part of the Congress-led front — at least that is what the current status is. Neither she nor Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is inclined to have an alliance with Congress in Uttar Pradesh for 2019. An alliance with Congress proved to be hugely detrimental to Samajwadi Party in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Because the property is not feminine
In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is not showing any keenness to tie up with Congress. The Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP’s emerging equations with the Congress will be dependent on the Telangana Assembly election results.
Fourth, Omar questioned the Congress’ strategy of giving prominence to several leaders from different times — whether at the time of the presidential election or the swearing-in of Kumaraswamy or during iftar parties or protest rallies in Delhi. He has been quoted as saying, “Sometimes, I have disagreements in terms of strategies. When we make it look like we are all ganging up against Prime Minister Modi, we are actually playing to his advantage. It allows him to be the victim. It’s the biggest favor that we can do for him. I don’t think it helps our case when 14-16 of us sit together on a stage and then blast him.”
This stance of the NC leader would pinch the Congress.
For instance, Sharad Yadav, a leader often seen with Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, is a leader without a party, without any mass base and without any influence over others. Yet, he is always given a prominent position.
Fifth, although Omar did not say it as many words, he insinuates that most of the leaders who have “ganged up” against Modi and the BJP have serious corruption cases against them and it does not make for good optics when they go ballistic against Modi with the single-minded pursuit of somehow dislodging him.
“It will allow the prime minister to claim that these guys are ganging up against me because I have stopped their corruption”, he said.
The Congress has so far not reacted to Omar’s contentions. However, if it wants to be a worthwhile challenger to Modi in 2019, then it needs to take serious note of the advice which has come from the leader of a friendly party.