Rahul, Modi & Politics With The Gloves OffMar 31, 2023 | Shalini Rai
Rahul Gandhi sentenced to two years in jail in a defamation case over his ‘Modi surname’ remark in 2019.
Rahul Gandhi disqualified from the Lok Sabha a day after being convicted in the said case.
Rahul Gandhi has maligned India abroad. He is a ‘Pappu’ (dimwit).
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has dominated the news in India in the past few weeks. If you were a tourist or visitor to our country, you would be excused for thinking that the current dispensation views Rahul Gandhi as some kind of existential threat and has resorted to what can only be described as a ‘witch-hunt’.
What could have prompted the government to first hastily convict him in a defamation case and then take away his membership of the Parliament of India? Seldom has such haste been demonstrated in similar cases (involving hateful/misogynist/bigoted speech). After all, PM Modi has called Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi a ‘jersey cow’ and Sunanda Pushkar, the deceased wife of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor ’50 crore ki girlfriend’ and has still not been held sufficiently accountable by either the courts of India or by its women for denigrating them through use of such language about others of their gender.
Could it be that the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which saw Congress leaders, members and the general public traverse the entire length of the country, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and in which we all saw Rahul Gandhi emerge as the leader the Congress has always hoped he would turn into, has made the BJP jittery?
Could it be the demand — by Rahul Gandhi — for a JPC probe into the irregularities committed by the Adani Group that has left the ruling dispensation rattled and clueless about its future course of action and so, it has sought to distract attention towards Rahul and his ‘crimes’?
Could it be that with another general election looming within a year, the BJP and its allies have brainstormed about the creation of a ‘bogeyman’ with which to torment voters into thinking their salvation lies with BJP and PM Modi alone?
The government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, the manner of repeal of the farmers’ laws, the shock decision to introduce demonetisation overnight, the constant communal wrangling that has now become tiresome and predictable — all these measures and their fallout have taken away much of the sheen with which PM Modi had started his innings in 2014.
Additionally, the manner in which convicted rapists and murderers in the Bilkis Bano case were first released and then feted publicly in August 2022 has left a bad taste in the mouth of even the most ardent BJP supporters and Modi fans/followers.
Demolition action on undertrials; first taking offence to actors donning ‘saffron’ bikinis in movies and then manufacturing discontent and unrest around such perceived insults; demonising an entire section of civil society as ‘urban naxals’; arresting journalists and social activists primarily because of their surnames (religious identity); the impending or concurrent decisions to privatise public sector assets and undertakings; allegations of crony capitalism; disregard for the environmental costs of ‘vikas’ (development); a cost of living crisis, with everything from petrol to pinafores becoming dearer — all these and other such actions have led to the corrosion of public trust in this government. It has made people question, critique and even challenge such actions openly, in recent weeks.
Beginning May 2014, the Modi government experienced a long honeymoon period, with the adoring public finding nary a fault with a political leader they viewed more as a saviour than as an administrator. That lasted till the sudden and perfunctory decision of outlawing all banknotes of denomination 500 and 1,000 in November 2016, which left millions without their life’s savings. Serpentine queues formed outside banks so people could exchange their now worthless hard-earned money for pieces of paper which the government said will now have value instead.
Then came the CAA protests and we all saw how Shaheen Bagh emerged as a symbol of a novel resurgence and a template for communal harmony. That may have raised a few eyebrows among right-wing political bigwigs. Their worries seemed to have been resolved when the coronavirus spread across the country and Covid-19 acquired pandemic proportions. Shaheen Bagh and all that it stood for became pariah. The protestors were told to go home and hunker down, the tents were rolled up and packed away and Shaheen Bagh’s overwhelmingly female dissenters found their lives slipping back into predictable monotony.
The farmers’ protests began in November 2020 on the outskirts of Delhi against the government’s decision to pass ‘anti-farmer’ Farm Bills and soon became popular enough to be seen as another ‘threat’ to the union government. Its leaders — particularly Rakesh Tikait — were labelled ‘anti-nationals’ and numerous tactics were adopted to discredit them. In the end, in late 2021, the government was forced to repeal the laws and farmers evicted from protest sites; but farmers insist that all their demands have not been met yet.
A careful, impartial look at the sequence of events above will reveal that over the past nine years, whenever the current government found itself pushed into a corner, it resorted to strident actions that closely resembled those expected from an autocratic regime, not from a government elected to administer one of the world’s largest democracies.
Along the way, Rahul Gandhi, his parentage, his perceived naïveté and lack of experience in governance proved to be an easy target for this government. Rahul-bashing has emerged as this government’s recourse of choice — given how often and how blatantly it has been resorted to. Its spin doctors can be expected to turn any event, speech, public engagement by Rahul Gandhi into an affront, an insult and a slight.
That has only ended up with the general public getting a sense of déjà vu every time Rahul Gandhi is targeted. The government’s response to castigate him for reasons real and imaginary has now become laborious. The people seem to have seen through the already gossamer-thin veil and what they behold is unbecoming deceit wrapped in communal hatred and religious bigotry.
It is about time the Modi government either delivers on its promises or takes responsibility for its policy blunders, before taking remedial steps.
After all, as the fracas over the ban on the BBC documentary on the Gujarat riots and the subsequent I-T raids on the BBC’s office in Delhi indicates, this government seems hell bent on blocking and prohibiting any degree of critique of its supreme leader, his past actions and present-day motivations. The act even made former Supreme Court judge Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman remark that if such bans are imposed in future, then “we are a sovereign democratic republic in name only.”
Also, the near-blanket ban on coverage of the Bharat Jodo Yatra by the mainstream media is telling. Lamenting the lack of proper coverage of the Yatra, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot even said the media has completely failed to fulfil its responsibility as the fourth pillar of democracy and history will not forgive them for it.
One can only hope that the BJP will find something other than Rahul-bashing to keep themselves engaged going forward. It just might happen that if they do not, the common Indian could end up teaching them a thing or two about the ‘idea of India’ which — although it may seem like an exaggeration at the moment — still remains dear to a majority of its citizens.