The Congress leadership missed a golden opportunity of resurrecting the party through a sympathy wave when its leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on Saturday decided to take bail in the National Herald case. The decision to take bail in the matter demonstrated that both the top bosses were reluctant to go to jail and thus exercised the legal option, instead of a political one. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was watching the unfolding scenario with bated breath and was preparing to fight a long political battle with its principal adversary, would have heaved a sigh of relief with the steam coming out of the Congress at such an initial stage itself.
The immediate fallout of the court development is that the legislative roadblock in Parliament stands dissolved and there is hope that all important bills including perhaps even the GST, stuck due to non cooperation of the Congress, would get passed in the next few days. The Congress, which had tried to divert attention from the Herald case as the reason of disruption to other issues, would now like to be seen as a responsible party, which was not preventing important legislation to be passed, especially after “responsibly” ensuring its top leaders attended court on receipt of summons.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in order to get things done, may overrule bureaucratic hurdles in the way of GST Bill by accommodating the Congress view to get this crucial business transacted in Parliament. The PM and his close aides are aware that with the judge scheduling the next hearing of the case on 20 February, days ahead of the Budget session, it would be better to get as much legislation through as is possible in the remaining three days.
The Sunday Guardian had predicted last Sunday that the legislative logjam in Parliament at the initiative of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi would not allow any business from being transacted during the past week and this proved accurate (Rahul against legislative truce with Modi government, 13 December). However, in the changed scenario of the Congress leadership getting a reprieve in court, peace, order and semblance may return to both Houses of Parliament in the coming week so that key bills get passed.
The first indication of the Congress toning down its “Jail Us” stand on the Herald case was when the plan to bring in around 50,000 people to the capital to express solidarity with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul withered away. In fact, the change of the strategy was influenced by some ground truths.
The party leadership just did not have the ability to have so many people in the city when it has been struggling to get even half the number for its rallies held at the Ram Lila grounds. On a few previous occasions, Haryana has provided the manpower, thanks to the goodwill of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and realisation dawned on one and all that no one else and particularly the Delhi leaders could not mobilise the people at all.
Thus, instead of being exposed by a failed support show, it was better to change the tactics to having only select people to accompany Sonia Gandhi and Rahul to the Patiala House court.
With the hype being lowered, the Congress decided to push plan “B” into action. Sonia Gandhi, who had last week declared that she was not scared of anyone since she was “Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law”, on Saturday, consciously chose not to mention her mother-in-law’s name at the AICC headquarters after obtaining the bail. She was perhaps aware that the bail option would never have been exercised by Indira Gandhi, who would have chosen to go to jail instead if such an eventuality was to arise. In the late 1970s, when Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had gone to jail, thousands of Congress workers all over the country had courted arrest. The court-arrest programme had galvanised the demoralised party cadre, as it would have done if Sonia and Rahul would have declined to take bail. Thus asking for bail suited the BJP, which no longer looks vindictive in the perception of the public.
Secondly, the bail episode has also brought to fore the equations within the party, which demonstrate the quantum of faith the leadership has on its associates. If the battle was to be political, the bail surety should have been provided by party leaders of both Houses — Ghulam Nabi Azad (Rajya Sabha) and Mallikarjun Kharge (Lok Sabha) or former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Instead, Sonia Gandhi made it clear that she relied the most on A.K. Antony, while Rahul Gandhi preferred his sister Priyanka Vadra to any party colleague. Priyanka’s foray into public space was to dispel any impression of differences between the siblings, as also to re-assure the cadre that she could not be written off from active politics at a future date. Earlier, her husband Robert Vadra had tweeted his total solidarity with his in-laws.
Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul on Saturday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of political vendetta and stated that they had full faith in the law of the land and would continue to fight for the weak, poor and the downtrodden. The change of tenor in their brief speech was indicative of their survival instinct more than anything else. A senior Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity said that the high command was surrounded either by lawyers or sycophants and “fixers” and that there was nobody to render any correct political advice to them.
The consequence is that the National Herald case, which could have provided the opportunity to the Gandhis to strike back and resurrect the party, is now headed for a legal battle, where options would be very limited and contained.
The petitioner in the case, Subramanian Swamy, while talking to newspersons expressed his satisfaction with the developments of the day. He reiterated that the evidence against the accused persons was documentary and not based on witness, so there was nothing much the defence lawyers could do.