The Surat trial court judgement convicting Rahul Gandhi of criminal defamation charges couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the Congress and the so-called ‘Non-Congress, non-BJP’ front of regional parties. The judgement imposed a two-year jail term as punishment, thus immediately disqualifying Rahul Gandhi as a Member of Parliament, in line with the 2013 Supreme Court judgement in the Lily Thomas case.
The judgement came just around when Rahul Gandhi concluded that the Congress, fighting only with its UPA alliance partners, would face the same outcome in 2024 as it had in the last two elections. The Congress couldn’t win enough seats to qualify for the Leader of the Opposition position both times. With this realisation, Rahul had just completed a trip to London, where he tried to enlist support from foreign powers to drive a narrative that democracy was in danger in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At the same time, various anti-BJP regional parties, which had grown in their states at the cost of Congress, had tried to project a ‘Non-Congress, non-BJP’ grouping and failed to get any traction. Major parties in this grouping were Trinamool Congress (TMC), led by Mamata Banerjee; Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal; Janata Dal-United (JDU), led by Nitish Kumar and Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), led by TS Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR). In addition, these parties have recently taken severe blows to their image due to allegations of large-scale corruption. Given the zero-tolerance stand taken by PM Modi on corruption, they had concluded that their only option was to paint the investigations as political targeting and vendetta by the BJP.
It was clear from the beginning that the BJP had no role in Rahul’s disqualification. The specific law was on the statute for a long time; the earlier SC judgement in the Lily Thomas case and the current trial court judgement were delivered by the independent judiciary; it was Rahul himself who had torn and trashed an ordinance that Manmohan wanted to bring to stay the disqualification in such cases. Legal luminaries, including Kapil Sibal, a confidant of Rahul Gandhi and Minister of Law and Justice in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet, were quick to point out that the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi was automatic upon the judgement.
Yet, leaders of these political parties were quick to portray the disqualification of Rahul as Modi’s handiwork and BJP’s attack on democracy. Mamata Banerjee of TMC called Rahul’s disqualification a “new low for democracy in PM Modi’s New India”. AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal called it a “dictatorial move” and requested everyone to “come together and save our democracy”. BRS supremo and Telangana Chief Minister, KCR, who earlier called Rahul Gandhi the “biggest buffoon” in the country, accused Modi of being a dictator and called it a “black day in the history of Indian democracy”.
It is easily discernible that these parties had already concluded that their very survival depended on them uniting. These parties were waiting for an excuse they could use for joining forces with Congress, a party they had claimed to be fighting until then.
On the other hand, even Rahul was aware of the consequences and did not want to clarify and apologise for his offensive remarks. Congress, filled with legal luminaries like no other party, did not try to secure an immediate stay on the conviction from a higher court. Both facts lead to the conclusion that the Congress saw it as an opportunity to unite all anti-BJP parties who were until then reluctant to accept Rahul’s primacy under the leadership of the same Rahul Gandhi.
Coming to Telangana, after failing to get traction on his non-Congress, non-BJP initiative and renaming TRS to BRS and relaunching it as a national party, options for KCR and BRS had narrowed down. With BJP becoming a potent alternative and growing even more robust by the day in the state, KCR had concluded that alliances are the only option for survival. The alliance with Communist parties in the Munugode by-election, and the narrow victory margin of the BRS candidate in it, had validated the necessity of alliances. His son Rama Rao’s presence with Rahul Gandhi at Yashwant Sinha’s nomination, his defence of Nehru’s and Manmohan’s performance as Prime Ministers in the Assembly, his daughter Kavitha’s invite to Congress president Mallikharjun Kharge and party supremo Sonia Gandhi to join her Jantar Mantar dharna were all apparent overtures to the Congress for an alliance. Rahul’s disqualification was the opportunity KCR was waiting for, and he quickly pounced on it.
It’s time for senior Congress leaders in the state, who claim to sincerely fight against KCR’s misrule, to decide where they stand. The only force that will be fighting the Bharat Rashtra Samithi in the Assembly elections this year-end will be the Bharatiya Janata Party.
(The author is BJP TS spokesperson)