The gloves are off. A surprise salvo from Rahul Gandhi accusing Narendra Modi of "personal corruption" signals the start of a no-holds-barred battle that can only get uglier.
"Read my lips. The PM is personally terrified of the information I have, we have. It is personal corruption of the PM that we have detailed information on," Rahul announced.
The Congress vice president did not follow up his bombshell with full disclosure. He insisted that he would only speak in Parliament if he was allowed to do so.
His reluctance to say more raises questions about the credibility of his allegation, leading the BJP to mock him. "He is making a joke of himself," said a party spokesperson.
We may never find out what information Rahul actually has. There are just two days left for the winter session of Parliament to end and neither the opposition nor the government appears to have any interest in allowing either of the Houses to function.
"Call it Dutch courage or belated realisation."
What is evident, however, is that the Congress has decided to join the rest of the opposition and take Modi head on over the unfolding demonetisation crisis. It's been a late starter in the battle with Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal taking the lead so far. Rahul's intervention is significant because for the first time, he shed his trademark aloofness and addressed a press conference flanked by leaders of 15 opposition parties.
Call it Dutch courage or belated realisation. The Congress senses, like the rest of the Opposition, that Modi and his government are on the defensive as demonetisation unravels into what former PM Manmohan Singh so cuttingly described as a "monumental blunder".
While economists are divided on the long-term impact of demonetisation on the economy, no one can ignore the daily serpentine queues outside banks, growing public frustration over the inability to access their money, mounting rural distress, reports of job losses across sectors and the slowing down of consumer demand.
Public mood is turning, from support to anger, and opposition leaders are hoping that it will ultimately coalesce into an anti-Modi sentiment. Rahul's personal attack on Modi is an attempt to dent the aura of invincibility that surrounds the PM and erase some of his sheen.
The new normal in politics is to play a game of innuendoes and insinuations. Arvind Kejriwal's mastery over what his critics call 'shoot and scoot' tactics reaped him an unexpected bounty in Delhi. Rahul seems to have decided to take a leaf out of the AAP chief's political book in the hope that he too can achieve a similar measure of success.
All this only means an ugly battle ahead. Modi has brandished his integrity and clean image like a badge of honour. And he is certainly not going to take Rahul's allegation of personal corruption lightly.
The unpredictability of Modi's politics means that no-one is ready to hazard a guess how he will react. But he is bound to hit back.
Unlike in 2014, however, Modi may find that the shoe is on the other foot. The opposition attack is happening against the backdrop of a government decision that seems to have gone horribly wrong. Consequently, he is on the backfoot at present.
"Rahul seems to have decided to take a leaf out of Arvind Kejriwal's political book."
Opposition parties, on the other hand, are chuffed by the fact that they have managed to sink their egos and differences to come together on an anti-demonetisation platform. It is certainly amazing that rivals like the BSP and SP, the Left and Trinamool Congress and DMK and AIADMK have made common cause on this issue.
The challenge now, as one opposition leader, said, is to take this unity forward from the corridors of Parliament on to the streets and try and build a movement. Opposition parties are talking about creating a coordination committee or some such forum to craft a common strategy.
Privately, opposition leaders agree that it's a tall order. And there's always the big question of who is going to take leadership of the movement. Much depends on whether Modi is able to diffuse the the demonetisation crisis and restore order in the economy.
Or whether the crisis escalates and the opposition finds itself propelled by public anger into achieving that elusive dream of building a popular movement against the government.
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