In 2017, when things seemed to be going well for the Congress, Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remark calling the Prime Minister a ‘neech aadmi’ became the turning point for the Grand Old Party. It gave the BJP a clear advantage and Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the barb to point out that an entitled Congress enjoyed attacking him by ridiculing a man of humble background.
With few exceptions, Congress has learned its lesson from the incident. Realizing that any personal attack on the prime minister would backfire, it tried to avoid making such remarks.
The party, now in election mode, appears to have implemented its lessons from the experience for itself – on behalf of Congress Chairman Mallikarjun Kharge. Speaking at a rally in Banaskantha, an Adivasi belt in Gujarat, Kharge said, “The prime minister always says he is poor. I am Kharge, the poorest of the poor. I’m from the untouchables… At least someone drank you [PM Modi’s] tea… no one even drinks my tea. You (Modi) say I am poor, someone told me bad words, ‘Meri aukat kya hai’… if you try to win people’s sympathy, people are not fools. They are very smart.”
Congress sources say there is a reason why the party unleashed Kharge in the context of an otherwise flawed campaign in Gujarat. According to the party, he ticks all the right boxes and can help with damage control. He can also help manage the perception that the Gandhis are entitled and that the party has lost synchronization with the poor.
Kharge also strategically chose the location of his speech – Banaskantha is an Adivasi area which is a bit of a Congress stronghold.
It’s not just Kharge’s Dalit background that the Congress hopes will work to his advantage. More importantly, Congress hopes Kharge can be a match for Modi’s humble origins, as he has someone who has risen from the ranks – starting as a union leader. In fact, sources say it hopes to play the ‘Who is more humble’ card in several state elections leading up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. This, coupled with Rahul Gandhi’s ‘image makeover’ after the Bharat Jodo Yatra, should hopefully work for the beleaguered party.
However, elections are not won on image culture alone. It needs to be backed by smart strategy and strong organization – areas where the BJP is at the forefront.
Read all the latest political news here