No hartal or bandh is ever “complete”. That lesson used to be drummed into young journalists years ago when a premium was placed on accuracy in reportage. There was always a strong element of the subjective to any assessment of such protests.
That reality has not changed: hence opinion will be divided if Monday’s action against runaway fuel prices will have any lasting impact on political fortunes. By most accounts it was a mixed bag, restricted to certain parts of the country, and not all Opposition parties, including the ever-feisty Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul, joined the bandwagon Rahul Gandhi tried to roll.
Going as far as seeking to lubricate his campaign by an offering of hallowed water from Kailash- Mansarovar at Rajghat: another act of buffoonery, if the theory of the TRS chief is to be accepted. The president of the oldest political party in the land shoots away at random, hoping he might sometimes hit a target.
This is not to underplay the negative effect of the NDA opting to be a silent spectator to the cascading impact of the highest-ever fuel prices, but to ask if Rahul’s bandh will shut the door on the BJP’s claims of increasing popularity with the masses ~ life did not grind to a halt on Monday. That query has been substantially answered by the palpably jittery reaction from the BJP. No, not the claims of a poor public response to the strikecall ~ such conflicting contentions are par for the political course ~ but some of the extreme assertions.
A union minister, conveniently, got his facts confused and attributed the death of a child in Bihar to an ambulance being caught up in a band related traffic snarl ~ a charge refuted by the district authorities and the child’s family.
Another party functionary insisted the protest was scheduled to coincide with the High Court rejecting a Sonia- Rahul plea in an income-tax case: did that spring from the same sentiment that prompted a BJP bigwig in UP to assert that a Ram temple would be built in Ayodhya because the Supreme Court was “ours” ~ Ravi Shankar Prasad would certainly wish it was.
Then a minister tried to explain that petroleum prices hinged on international prices, but was silent on why excise duties were not being reduced to provide some relief. Is that because the economy has no “cushion” to spare? And in the background lies another union minister’s allegation of “doctored” photographs of Rahul’s high-altitude pilgrimage.
These are but strands in a narrative that suggests the ruling party is playing even full-tosses off the backfoot. The deeper story on what seems to be giving the BJP some jitters actually may have little to do with Rahul. As the hour of reckoning nears, rhetoric will have to give away to ground realities ~ and Mr Modi’s performance may be assessed in not the quite the glowing terms the party projects.