Torpedo Ahead for RaGa


Unlike the Genteel BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah want to deny all political space to the Gandhi family and that includes Amethi and Raebareli

By Asit Manohar

In the coming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP President Amit Shah and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath have big plans to ambush Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi in his own constituency Amethi — a constituency which has been represented by four Gandhi family members namely Sanjay Gandhi (1980 till his death), Rajeev Gandhi (1981-91), Sonia Gandhi (1999-2004) and now Rahul Gandhi (since 2004).

The BJP President Amit Shah’s recent move to checkmate Ahmed Patel’s — Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s back room Lieutenant — entry to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat might have been unsuccessful, but the BJP’s ‘Chanakya’ has made plans to corner the Gandhi family in multiple ways. The thwarted bid to humiliate Ahmed Patel, who is the Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi, was just one piece of the strategy.

Before the horrific deaths of over 70 children last fortnight at a Gorakhpur hospital, Shah was working with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on a mission to torpedo Rahul Gandhi and unsettle the grand old party in 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. For now, the Chief Minister is focusing on fighting the allegations of negligence and misgovernance that led to the tragedy in Gorakhpur, a constituency he has represented five times in parliament.

The plan to leave the Gandhis stranded in their home terrain in the adjoining Burroughs of Amethi and Raebareli was an aggressive and proactive approach originally conceived by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then entrusted and tasked, as usual, to his closest aide, Shah. Sources in the BJP say that Modi and Shah want to deny all political space to the Gandhi family and that includes their traditional family bastion. Unlike the genteel BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, which tried to maintain niceties in politics, the Modi and Shah duo do not believe in conceding any quarter.

“To wipe out the Gandhis from UP is Modi and Shah’s one of the major dream. Humbling Patel was a personal grudge for Shah but the real target was the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and it was an audacious attack on her prestige. The plan to target Rahul Gandhi has been in place ever since Yogi took over and will unfold in phases. There are still one and half years to go to execute the whole scheme, but what a dream come true it will be for the BJP if we manage to deny them all political legitimacy,” said a senior BJP leader privy to the plan who does not want to be identified.

The recent “missing” posters of Gandhi put up in Amethi were faithfully reported by the usual suspect pro-BJP channels. The posters will be followed by a heightened narrative of non-performance by Gandhi. Yogi has assigned a significant stake in “Torpedo RG” to Mahendra Singh, who holds the crucial portfolio of rural development. Singh is expected to and has been travelling to Amethi every fortnight as he chalks out a comprehensive plan using his department for new schemes for Amethi, which is still predominantly rural. The BJP has carried out a detailed ward-by-ward informal survey and is earmarking nodal block officials for each ward. Adityanath also meets Singh for meetings specific to Amethi and is using state government machinery to focus on the constituency of Gandhi scion. The UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in turn gives reports to the progress made in Amethi to the fanatically hands-on and detail-driven Amit Shah.

While state machinery commandeered by Adityanath is gamely attending to Amethi, Shah is also working on an equally important part of his plan — identifying and then building a strong local face to run against Gandhi in the 2019 general election in an uncomfortably tight contest. Last time around, Smriti Irani, union minister for Textiles and Information and Broadcasting managed to significantly reduce Gandhi’s margin of victory to 1.07 lakhs which the Gandhi scion had previously won by a huge margin of 2.9 lakhs in 2004 and 3.7 lakhs in 2009 respectively. 2014 was also the first time that the BJP tried to really take on Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and an unwritten covenant between senior leaders of all political parties of giving each other a near walkover in their fiefdoms was breached by Shah and Modi. Irani has been visiting Amethi regularly and makes it a point to target and take on the Gandhi family in every visit.

But, sources in the ‘party with difference’ reveal that it is unlikely to be Smriti Irani versus Rahul Gandhi again and party president Amit Shah is making overtures to the erstwhile Raja of Amethi, 64-year-old Sanjay Singh, who is currently an Upper House Congress lawmaker from Assam, ditch the grand old party and run against the Gandhi scion. There are still two years to go, but Singh has made no secret of his unhappiness with Gandhi’s handling of Amethi. Singh had left the Congress and contested against Sonia Gandhi as a BJP candidate in 1999. He returned to the Congress in 2003, but Shah believes he is ripe for the picking. Whether plan “Torpedo RG” succeeds or not, one thing is clear: that Modi and Shah have forever changed the rules of engagement. Gandhi better watch out or he could be forced to learn from the Ahmed Patel plan to save his own seat.