Raj Thackeray bolsters secular-liberal image of the Rahul Congress.

 

Only last week media pundits went gaga over all the good things the Congress Party had said in its manifesto. Trying to make a clean break with its past, the Grand Old Party committed itself to uphold the constitutional order in letter and spirit. It would remove sedition from the statute book, respect citizens’ rights, guarantee a free press and ensure cultural and religious diversity, provide succour to the weak and the vulnerable. In short, all the things that sound pleasant to secularist-liberal ears.

And even before the week was out, who do you think had emerged as the chief campaigner for the Congress Party in Mumbai and further afield in Maharashtra? None other than Raj Thackeray, that’s who! The brand new epitome of secular-liberal, pluralist values is now rooting aggressively for the NCP-Congress in Mumbai. Raj trades in an unbridled abuse of Narendra Modi and the BJP. Yet he seems to draw his own kind of crowd under his own party’s banner.

But the important thing is he is seeking votes for the NCP-Congress candidates. Could this be a precursor to closer links after the polls, especially when both the NCP and the Congress have no “saleable” leader left in the state? Sharad Pawar is a spent force. The Congress is saddled with a couple of non-entities for whom defending their own home turfs is proving hard. This vacuum can be filled by Raj, especially if he is made to smoothen out his extremities.

Reports said that the former Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde finding himself in trouble in Sholapur has sent an SOS to the secularist-liberal Raj to come and rescue him. So have several other Congress and NCP candidates. Whether it is Sharad Pawar or someone else who has offered a lifeline to the estranged cousin of Uddhav Thackeray, the heir to the late founder of the Shiv Sena, is not relevant.

Raj Thackeray’s Navnirman Sena is not contesting the poll but he is enjoying a full outing regardless, courtesy the NCP-Congress. Given the reports of a vertical breach in the Pawar family, what with nephew Ajit having come to control the party apparatus, roping in Raj could also curb the rising ambitions of the rebellious nephew. Personalised politics sans any ideology or ideas offers so many possibilities. In time, Raj can be a good fit for the NCP-Congress leadership slot, isn’t it?

That the self-avowedly secular groups should be so bereft of political talent that they have to rely on the ultra right-wing extremist’s rabble-rousing to pep up their campaign underlines their woeful state in the 2019 election. One can only pity the commentators who, relying on a manifesto patched together by a number of out-of-work family retainers and hangers-on, had gone to town about the coming birth of a brand new Congress committed to re-establish a liberal-secular order. Yes, to further bolster the institutional pillars of the Republic the Congress has now co-opted Raj Thackeray, a known protector of the constitutional values.

Remember that so far the Congress had not done business with the likes of Raj Thackeray, at least not publicly. He was supposed to be an anathema for the party. For, the Congress claimed to be an antithesis of the Shiv Sena. Generally, the secular-liberal parties were at great pains to maintain a safe distance from the Shiv Sena, though there is credible evidence of the Sena being birthed thanks to the conspiracy of the Congress leaders in the 60s and 70s who were out to settle their own factional feuds.

At quite another level, the fact that someone like Raj Thackeray should find resonance on behalf of the NCP-Congress—against the original Sena, he was given a clear thumbs-down—underlines how the polity has shifted rightwards. Not long ago, leftist-socialist dogmas held sway from the public pulpit so much so that even the Vajpayee-led Jana Sangh had felt obliged to embrace odd-sounding Gandhian socialism as a tribute to the dominant Congress theme of samajwad and garibi hatao.

Samajwad is a lost cause now, especially post-economic liberalisation. But injection of majoritarian religiosity into the rightist-liberal socio-economic mix raises the hackles of the very people who seemed to be in a hurry to clutch the Congress manifesto to their bosoms. It is these very people who have reason to feel let down by the Congress’ reliance on the likes of Raj Thackeray to stay afloat in the electoral pool.

IMRAN IS RIGHT FOR ONCE

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement that chances of an Indo-Pak dialogue would brighten if Modi came back to power is sought to be used against the Prime Minister. Several opposition leaders have claimed on the basis of that statement that Pakistan wants Modi to return to power. Predictably, this failed to find traction among voters for obvious reasons.

But if the truth be told, probably Imran is right for once. For only a strong leader whose national security credentials are unimpeachable can be in a position to negotiate from a position of strength with Pakistan. A weak Prime Minister like Manmohan Singh, with no support either in his own party or in the country could not have pursued peace with Pakistan. He could only embarrass India by impliedly conceding interference in Balochistan at Sharm El-Sheikh.

However, it will be wrong to suggest that Imran has said something. His predecessors too echoed the same sentiment in so many words. For, only the strong are in a position to sue for peace, not the weak and doddering. Having reinforced his credentials as a fierce defender of national honour, the post-Balakot Modi can meet Imran more than half way to resume the dialogue process.

ANOTHER HAWALA DIARY, MORE SCAMS

The spin-offs from the ongoing Augusta Westland case could keep the investigative agencies busy for years. It is because the secret diary which the Enforcement Directorate was able to get its hands on thanks to the cooperation of a key accused, who had since become approver, mentions names of virtually a who’s who of political and corporate worlds. (The diary was recovered from a bank locker maintained by the hawala dealer-turned- approver.) Even a couple of richie-rich lawyers reportedly used the services of the “trustworthy” hawala trader for taking care of their unaccounted money and converting it into hard currency in a country of their choice. However, so far the investigating agencies have shown no inclination to pursue any names mentioned in the diary other than those linked to the payoffs in the VVIP chopper scam.

 

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