Even then, if the reactions of his main adversary, the BJP, is considered, the Congress’s heir-apparent appears consistently to get on the nerves of the ruling party at the centre, evoking a response similar to an uncontrollable panic attack. Hardly a day passes when the seemingly all-powerful BJP with its bountiful treasure chest (which enables it to woo defectors from other parties) does not lash out at the putative shahzeda. When it is not deriding him as Pappu or an adolescent dilettante in politics, the BJP lambastes his mother as a foreigner who accepts money from the Chinese and his great grandfather for all of India’s woes, starting from having been wrong-footed by China in Aksai Chin and by Pakistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

By trashing all and sundry in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty from Motilal Nehru, who was accused of being a beef-eater, to Jawaharlal who not only “lost” portions of Ladakh and Kashmir to the enemy but also ruined the economy by his faith in the public sector, to Rajiv Gandhi who has been labelled “bhrashtachar No. 1”, to Sonia Gandhi who became an Indian citizen only in the 1980s, to Rahul “baba”, as Union home minister Amit Shah mockingly calls him, the BJP is patently on an overdrive to villify some of the topmost personalities of the 135-year-old Congress. Only Indira Gandhi is spared from inclusion in this rogues’ gallery presumably because of her reputation as a “strong” leader, an attribute which is admired by the BJP. It is worth recalling that she was called Durga by Atal Behari Vajpayee for having broken Pakistan into two in 1971.

Given the BJP’s propensity to paint the Congress leaders in the blackest of colours (except Indira), it stands to reason that it cannot expect a grave challenge from such a dismal outfit and least of all from Rahul “baba”. Yet, curiously enough, this isn’t the case. As the Congress’s disparagement by the BJP and its devoted army of trolls as well as by the so-called “godi” media which offer it resounding support on television as faithful “lapdogs” (godi in Hindi means lap), it would appear that the Hindutva camp comprising in the main the BJP and the RSS does not sleep well at night because of the Congress’s spectre.

And the most spooky figure for the BJP at the moment is seemingly Rahul, who has strangely defied all efforts to mock and marginalize him. Yet, like a bad penny, he continues to turn up to get under the BJP’s skin. What explains his survival in such a spiteful and inimical atmosphere? The simple answer is that to the BJP’s opponents – the BJP’s 2019 vote share of 37.4 per cent means that 62.6 per cent of the electorate did not vote for it – there is virtually no one other than Rahul who has shown a willingness to take on the redoubtable Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo.

To start with two of the other prime ministerial aspirants in the opposition camp – Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati – while the former is embroiled in the large number of corruption charges against her party men, the latter seemingly has one foot in the BJP camp. And her bhatija – brother’s son – Akhilesh Yadav, who was once her close ally in U.P., is retreating into the casteist confines of his party in the company of Mulayam Singh and Shivpal Singh Yadav who are not quite the epitomes of modernity.

It isn’t only the BSP leader who does not appear to be averse to renewing her old camaraderie with the BJP, there are also other former partners of the BJP like the Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu and Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik who can be said to be sailing close to the saffron wind. It is the same with Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress. That all these parties helped the BJP to push through its Hindutva agenda through parliament, including abolishing Kashmir’s special status, is a tell-tale sign.

There were elements in the Congress, too, who went along with the BJP’s Hindutva pitch – Jyotiraditya Scindia was among them and he is now in the BJP – but the Congress’s stance has been the deletion of the Article without the consent of the Kashmiris themselves as was evident from the prolonged crackdown in the valley. Rahul is also the BJP’s bete noire because he represents a heritage – secularism and cosmopolitanism – which is at odds with the saffron worldview. As long as he does so, the BJP cannot rest easy. (IPA Service)