After three days of ‘satyagraha’, the Congress must have realised, rather painfully, that its street protests over the questioning of Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate may have charged up the demoralised cadre but not caught the imagination of the people.
The protests remained a show of solidarity by its own leaders, with even Opposition parties — barring a tweet by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin – not rallying behind the embattled party and the Gandhis.
This realisation appears to have nudged the party to marry its protests with that of the stir against the Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across the three services. This is a pragmatic decision which should be an eye opener for the grand old party: that its stock as well as its mascot is so down that the long hours of grilling of Rahul (which the party has called harassment and persecution) have created barely a ripple.
But the fact that the party is out of touch with ground realities also became clear from its initial response to the Agnipath scheme. Many of the leaders leaned on the side of the argument that the ethos and discipline of the forces will be impacted by the scheme and stopping regular recruitment and inducting people into the forces for just four years may affect the country’s security. It was only after violent protests were reported from several parts that the party started aggressively talking about the disenchantment among the youth and how the scheme would impact a large section of the youth with hopes resting on getting into the Army.
While the party has now welded its protests on the questioning of Rahul with the Agnipath scheme, the way the Congress has rallied behind its first family is resonant of the kind of sycophancy its critics have often accused it of. It also highlights that it took a blow to the Gandhis for the Congress to hit the streets, a demand that has been made by an influential section of the party for long. Their argument was simple – with its popularity in free fall, being visible on the streets was the only way for the party to mobilise its cadre and remain in contention.
In September last year, after seven years in the Opposition, the Congress had even set up a nine-member panel to plan sustained agitations on national issues. The largely still-born group is headed by Digvijaya Singh and has Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as one of its members.
The failure of the Congress to mount an agitation is particularly acute at a time when the otherwise invincible Narendra Modi government has shown itself vulnerable to public protests. In the eight years of its government, the Modi government has been hit the hardest on farm laws, which it had to roll back after a year of protests by farmer groups, in which the Congress, despite being the main Opposition, had no role.
While the Modi government rammed through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act irrespective of protests, it has dawdled on the matter since, with rules yet to be framed on the legislation, passed in 2019.
The Congress, on the other hand, has not been able to force the government to rescind, roll back or change course on anything, barring the one off case where it and other parties mounted pressure on the government to shelve its plans to amend the land acquisition act in 2015.
Could the anger and passion with which the Congress has hit the streets over Rahul’s questioning, courting arrest and fielding police lathis, be a pointer to the Congress’s realisation for change? Its supporters ardently hope so.