Gujarat is poll-bound in the next few weeks, so Rahul's tour is perfectly understandable. But the Lok Sabha elections are nearly 18 months away, and the next UP assembly elections are more than four years distant. So why Amethi now? Clearly, only to draw attention away from Rahul's Navsarjan Yatra through delirious crowds in Modi's heartland of central Gujarat. Unable to stall the passage of the triumphant Congress caravan, the BJP Trio have run away from the field of battle in Gujarat to distant UP, resorting there to cheap jibes and baseless innuendo that have always been the Sangh Parivaar's stock-in-trade.
Rahul Gandhi has been asking searching questions about declining growth rates; joblessness; the stagnation in agriculture; the consequences of demonetization; GST's impact on small, micro and medium businesses; the ever-spiralling petrol and other petroleum product prices in the face of sharply declining international crude oil prices; and Gauri Lankesh's assassination. Instead of answering these questions of vital national interest, the Trio have nothing more trivial to raise than the alleged Italian origin of Rahul Gandhi's glasses. The vacuousness of the charge would be risible but for its vulgar racial slur. Rahul respectfully calls Narendra Modi, "PM". Amit Shah abuses Rahul as "Shehzaada" ("prince" is the polite translation, a Muslim Prince is the underlying drum-beat).
Rahul resorts to gentle wit. Alluding to Jay Amit Shah's company turnover soaring, allegedly from next to nothing before Modi/Shah became the nation's ruling duumvirate to Rs 80 crore within a couple of years of Father and Friend pole-vaulting to rulership, Rahul raises a laugh with his one-liner: "After BetiBachao, the PM has launched Beta Bachao"! Simply unable to match that, riposte for riposte, Shah can do no better than utter the blatant lie: "He always remembers Italy, but never Amethi".
What's with this Italy obsession except narrow jingoism and filthy race prejudice - exactly the kind of obsessive Jew-baiting that drove Hitler and the Nazis from victory to hubris?
Rahul makes the perfectly valid point that when youngsters take selfies, "the jobs are generated in China and not in India". He proceeds to the telling conclusion: "the Modi government has no focus on generating new jobs". It should be easily possible for the Trio to dilate on what their party and government are doing to hone in on the perceptive point made by Rahul at Berkley, that whereas 30,000 young people are entering the job market every day, employment opportunities available are limited alarmingly to just 450 jobs a day.
Smriti Irani's response? "Rahul is a non-serious leader swinging from Berkley to Amethi". Is there either dignity or good sense to such a rubbishy charge?
Rahul Gandhi stresses that "the goal of the education system" must be to "provide education"; yet, ever since he became CM Gujarat, Modi had seen educational institutions as designed to "make profit". Irani, of course, cannot be blamed for not seeing the point, perhaps because her own education record, as she proudly boasts, has been limited to a week at Yale, preceded by, um, something or other through a correspondence course at Delhi University, although she cannot quite remember when or in what subject she made the grade. But how does that matter when Destiny had determined that a Man from Gujarat, who initially claimed to have taken a BA from Delhi University and then an MA from his home university (in subjects never taught at Gujarat University), before confessing on Rajiv Shukla's TV show that he was not a graduate at all, was going to appoint her as A Suitable Girl to the post of Union Education Minister! Hence, not a word about Rahul's pledge to "put the focus back on education if the Congress is voted to power".
Rahul states: "When the UPA was in power, crude oil cost $140 a barrel, which has been reduced to $50 now. But has this benefit been passed onto you? Is petrol cheap?" The crowd yells back, "No"!
Instead of explaining why Jaitley has been raking in the bonanza while crushing the consumer with higher and higher tax and excise takings, Yogi Adityanath thinks Rahul cannot see the "all-round development" because, poor fellow, "it is not his fault but that of the Italian glasses he wears over his eyes". There you are: Italy once again! (Yes, this is the same guy who has obliterated the Taj Mahal from all official tourism brochures of the state he lords it over!)
The Yogi thunders, "This land belongs to the people, the farmers of Amethi, and cannot just be grabbed by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation as it is not the bapauti (heirloom) of any family". This is with reference to the 66-acre plot on which a bicycle factory was to be established by a company that went bankrupt. A local Congress leader, Akhilesh Pratap Singh, promptly explains that it is not the RGF but the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (that has been providing eye-care to the needy in Amethi and runs North India's biggest eye hospital) that bought the land at an auction after the company was "declared bankrupt" by the Delhi High Court; the land was not "acquired" but leased from the UP State Industrial Corporation. Formalities to complete the auction proceedings were only completed in 2015 and plans are now being rolled out for utilizing the plot for purposes consistent with Trust's charter and the needs of the local community. To that clarification, the devout Yogihas no answer. Lies, lies, lies - and, of course, statistics.
With facts and figures at his fingertips, Rahul asks about the slowing economy. "Now admit that you have failed. You had promised jobs. Where are those jobs?" The audience shouts back, "No jobs anywhere". In Amethi, the Trio are clueless. In the face of agricultural distress, the collapse of manufacturing, the investment famine, growing NPAs, they can only make the empty boast that the Modi government has launched 106 development schemes, and, ridiculously, that "Rahul baba" can't count up to 106. All Shah can pathetically plead is that "the people are aware of the development brought in by the BJP-ruled government". Are the people really so befooled?
Are they not "aware" of the consequences, in their lived lives, of the devastating consequences of GDP growth rate having fallen by two percent to 5.7 per cent in official statistics; to 3.7 percent if the same parameters are used as were used till the Modi government changed these parameters; and to "near zero growth", says JNU Professor Emeritus for Economics, Arun Kumar, because surveys "carried out during the period of severe impact from demonetization" reported "a consistent decline of between 60-80% in the unorganised sectors of the economy" where "93% of the workforce" finds employment, followed by another bout of decline "after June when the GST-related impacts came into play", as evidenced by "the decline in credit off-take from the banks, fall in employment in the organised sectors of the economy, rise in demand for work under MNREGA, and the decline in investment in the economy"?
Rahul Gandhi responded from Gujarat: "The BJP's development claim is nothing but a dream which is being run on TV. The money to run this dream comes from a few industrialists...they help only a handful of their industrialists". Touche!
And why at Amethi did Amit Shah duck the question of the sudden phenomenal growth in the financial assets of his son, amounting, as Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat had said, to growth of "16,000 times" in just a year. "This is Modi-ji's 'Start-up India, 'Make-in-India'." Yet, added Rahul,"Modi-ji has gone silent". So, did Amit Shah at Amethi go silent. So did the Yogi. And so did Smriti Irani.
The BJP is panicking. That is why there is no more talk of presenting the Budget at the beginning of the calendar year in January 2018. They know that they would have to reveal their empty pockets if they did. That is also why an early general election is on the cards, for fear that the deteriorating economic situation will only deteriorate further. That is why the Trio rushed to Amethi, hoping against vain hope that even if the BJP is defeated, they might be able to pluck a feather from Amethi to wear in their hair. It is an empty hope. Their days are numbered.
Especially as the Congress president has now told NDTV, that Rahul is likely to take over "soon".
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.