Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: Rahul wins this round

It is acknowledged even by Narendra Modi’s harshest critics that when it comes to playing the game of politics, he is the master.

rahul gandhi, congress
Rahul Gandhi (File photo: IE)

It is acknowledged even by Narendra Modi’s harshest critics that when it comes to playing the game of politics, he is the master. He has managed always to turn all attacks on him into boomerangs that he keeps stowed away to be used when the time is right.

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A BJP cartoon that popped up on YouTube last week is proof of this. In it we see Modi dressed as a simple man with a cloth bag slung on his shoulder marching up endless flights of steep stairs that go higher and higher as he walks calmly on leaving Sonia and Rahul Gandhi gasping for breath on the sidelines. The cartoon’s commentary reminds them pointedly of comments made long ago about him being a ‘chaiwallah’, a ‘merchant of death’ and of ‘lowly’ breeding. Modi the hero strides on higher and higher. It is corny this cartoon but effective.

Also read: Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: A dying democracy?

This is why the recent hysteria that he has personally instigated over Rahul Gandhi’s comments in England is so puzzling. It indicates that perhaps he is not as skilled at playing the game of politics as is generally believed. I am no admirer of Rahul Gandhi but concede that in the needless brouhaha about what he said and did not say on his foreign tour he has behaved with more dignity and maturity than the Prime Minister or the senior ministers he chose as his attack team.

Parliament’s Budget Session remained stalled all week because of the hysteria whipped up by Modi’s ministers and MPs in their determination to make Rahul apologise for what he said about Indian democracy on ‘foreign soil’. He responded correctly by saying that he had not said what they say he said and so the question of apologising did not arise. A fair remark since nobody can be ordered to apologise for something they have not said.

It is true that Rahul chose his words incautiously when he said that democracy had died in India and that it was for democratic countries to sit up and take notice because ‘Indian democracy is a public good.’ But he did not ask Western democratic leaders to intervene in India’s internal affairs and he did not say anything that can be considered an insult to India.

Anyone who gets elected to Parliament should be fully aware that there is a difference between India and the Indian government. You would not know this from the unbalanced and frenzied comments that came from the most senior ministers in the Modi government.

Rahul was critical of the government and the policies that he believes have weakened democratic institutions. He has a right to say this, and it does not make him a traitor or anti-India which is what he was made to sound like by the ministers who ranted and raved against him. If they were so upset by his remarks, surely the best course would have been to debate the matter in Parliament instead of making both houses dysfunctional? And over what?

Rahul has said similar things before many times. In his attacks on the Prime Minister, he has gone so far as to call him corrupt and a thief, but our ‘nationalistic’ ministers appear to be most offended by the fact that this time his criticism of Indian democracy was on ‘foreign soil.’ Is the BJP so digitally illiterate that it has not yet discovered that the Internet has blurred geographical boundaries so totally that what you say in one country can be seen and heard in other countries in real time? The whole issue is absurd and childish. For a change, the man that the BJP has for eight years dismissed as Pappu or a goof came across as the only grown-up in the room.

Also read: Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: Brute state power

What puzzles me as an ex-Modi Bhakt is why a man who is believed to have the highest approval ratings of any world leader should behave in so insecure a fashion. The Congress Party’s spokesmen have said openly that the reason why it is the government that has been responsible for stalling Parliament this time is because the Prime Minister is afraid that the financial dealings of his close friend, Gautam Adani, will somehow spill mud on his shining image. If this is truly what has shaken his confidence and his political timing, then the Prime Minister should have no hesitation in ordering a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate. The history of JPCs tells us that this parliamentary device is where burning issues go to die or at least be buried for a very long while.

One way or another, it is time to allow Parliament to function. If we are, as the Prime Minister says proudly, the ‘mother of democracy’, then it is wrong to make the instrument of parliamentary democracy dysfunctional. With a Lok Sabha election just over a year away it is vital that voters are reminded that the people they send to Parliament are there to speak about their problems. There have been too many parliamentary sessions in recent times in which the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have become arenas for shouting, screaming, leaps into the well of the house or angry walkouts. There have been too many sessions that have been wasted on screeches and howls over issues of little consequence. It is the business of government to run Parliament so please do your job.

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First published on: 19-03-2023 at 04:30 IST
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