For cheap publicity, Rahul winked at everything good in parliamentary practice.
The bar is set so low for Rahul Gandhi that whatever the 48-year-old boy-man says seems to pass muster. After the juvenile show of hug-and-wink, and plain lies about Rafale and Doklam, we are not surprised the Congress president is winning high praise from the usual the pseudo-secularist crowd. How little have we come to expect from out leaders! We may certainly not be happy with some of the things under Narendra Modi, especially the ruling party’s misdoings in the cultural and social spheres. But is Rahul is all that India’s Grand Old Party has to offer by way of an alternative? Or, for that matter, the whole jing-bang arrayed against Modi. Frankly, this lazy argument “anyone but Modi” doesn’t impress.
Surely, we deserve a better slate for 2019? However, from the painstakingly dull and droning debate on the no-trust move on Saturday, with most speakers content with regurgitating familiar grievances and making set-piece interventions, the fault lines between the so-called Mahagathbandhan were already clear. A complete lack of coordination between the nay-sayers came through. Those against Modi had very little to unite them barring their opposition to him.
If the mover of the debate harped almost exclusively on the alleged betrayal of Andhra Pradesh by both the Congress and the BJP, the star speaker of the Congress spoke without delivering on his promise that he needed but only 15 minutes to pulverise Modi—his exact words being, “Modiji, mujhe 15 minute Parliament mein bolney dey, desh mein bhoochal aa jaayega.” In the event, the only people moved by the carefully scripted hug—the wink it seems was unplanned, reflecting his mental age—were the visceral Modi-haters in the media. Everyone else was aghast at the childish antic in the sanctum sanctorum of Indian democracy.
Of course, no one reached the lofty heights in either style or substance seen in debates past. Old-timers would recall Vajpayee, Kriplani, Lohia, Limaye, Fernandes et al pinning down governments on no-trust motions even if the outcome in those days too was a foregone conclusion. On Saturday, nobody expected the government to fall. But its margin of victory was reassuring for the ruling party. In spite of the TDP’s exit, the abstention of the venal Shiv Sena, the accretion of the sizable AIADMK bloc made a vital difference.
Much of what he said in his 50-minute speech was familiar, but the surprising part was his comments on Doklam and the Rafale deal. That on Doklam the government refused to wink in the face of a determined aggression by the Chinese on Bhutanese territory, was turned on its head by the Gandhi scion, who was then consorting with the Chinese ambassador (in the hope that the stand-off would yield anti-Modi capital). The Naamdar, as Modi has come to refer to the Congress dynast, falsely suggested capitulation. On Rafale, Nirmala Sitharaman pierced the Rahul balloon, asserting the secrecy clause was signed between the French and Indian governments—governments, mind you, not private parties—back in 2008 when the do-no-wrong-by-doing-nothing A.K. Antony was Defence Minister.
Generally, the debate was a virtual trailer of the campaign in the coming state elections and later the parliamentary poll next year. The Congress strategy was clear. Do everything to undermine Modi’s credibility. Hence the falsehood about Rafale. And, two, paint him as pro-business. On both counts, the facts are bound to belie the Congress thrust. No government since Independence has done so much to discipline the business class, ending the loot and scoot from the public exchequer, putting in place anti-bankruptcy and benami property laws, injecting transparency in business, shutting down tens of thousands of shell companies, the generic vehicles of tax evasion. The list of such cleansing acts is too long.
The ruling party, on its part, is set to seek a second term on the back of various pro-poor schemes, such as Jan Dhan, Ujjwala, village roads, agri-insurance, universal health cover, a million-strong recruitment of village youths in semi-paramilitary programmes, etc. Transforming the lives of the poor is a worthwhile objective even if it does not make headlines and dazzle the urban elites which had fattened themselves on a network of fixers and commission-agents flourishing freely under the previous regimes. Since 2014, fixers and dalals have either moved to Dubai and London or are lying low in their gilded dens.
Meanwhile, the debate underlines the enormity of the task of putting together an omnibus anti-Modi coalition. For instance, the mover of the motion could not be teaming up with the Congress since it is projected as the main villain in the forced vivisection of united Andhra. Nor will Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress yield an inch to the Congress, which, after denying him chief ministership following his father’s death, prosecuted him for humongous corruption—ironically, during the period YSR was Andhra Chief Minister and had single-handedly sated the hunger for money of 10 Janapath.
Then, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi stayed neutral. It would find no use tying up with the Congress as the latter has very little support on the ground in Telangana. It cannot join hands with the BJP given the significant percentage of Muslims in the state. Another party to abstain was Biju Janta Dal. We cannot see it consorting with the Congress because, a) the Odisha Congress is in complete disarray, and b) Naveen Patnaik reckons he needs no external help to retain power. The Shiv Sena’s joining the Mahagathabandhan will spell its premature doom. Mayawati would seek a huge pound of flesh. Akhilesh Yadav is no longer interested in Rahul, a case of once bitten twice shy. In Delhi, AAP is unlikely to play second fiddle to the marginalised Congress. Only in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is the Congress in direct fight with the BJP. But that alone is not good enough to make the winking head of the Congress the Prime Minister.
Still, the no-trust motion will have served some purpose if only Parliament does not return to the madness of shouting matches and forced adjournments for the remainder of the session.
THAROOR GETS HYPER
What explains Shashi Tharoor’s belated assaults on the ruling party? For nearly four years he was barely heard whimpering a word edgeways against the Modi government. In fact, he and the Prime Minister seemed to be quite friendly on their respective social media accounts. But what has changed overnight that the MP from Thiruvananthapuram is now seen frothing at the mouth about Hindu Pakistan and Hindu Taliban. Wonder if it has something to do with the much delayed charge-sheet filed against him for abetting the suicide/murder of his wife Sunanda Pushkar! Well, your guess is as good as anyone else’s.