AVAY SHUKLA | 9 AUGUST, 2020
Last man standing?
I am fully aware that the subject I am about to broach is a touchy one, as any good word, even a muted one, about Rahul Gandhi is considered unfashionable these days and runs counter to the howling of the mobs.
However, I put my faith in the wisdom of Thomas Carlyle who famously said: "Popular public opinion is the biggest lie", and proceed to say my bit. But some disclaimers are in order.
Firstly, I write this as an ordinary citizen of India, a privileged one perhaps, but as susceptible to the slings and arrows of today's violent forces as the poor chap who was beaten to a pulp with hammers in Gurgaon the other day for carrying buffalo meat, which is legal: it can also happen to me the next time I pick up my favourite kababs from Meatz.
Secondly, I am no apostle or faithful of the Congress party and have not voted for it in the last decade. In 2014 I was conned by the P.T.Barnum type showmanship of Mr. Modi; in 2019 I was again taken for a ride, this time by the chameleon- hued Kejriwal who is yet to figure out whether he is a nationalist fish or a liberal fowl. (He needs to make up his mind soon because right now he is beginning to look like a poorly xeroxed copy of Nitish Kumar, and we know what happens to blurred copies- they end up in the waste bin.).
Nor am I a Rahul Gandhi acolyte or camp follower; in fact I dislike his vacillation on critical issues, I thoroughly disapprove of his WFH ( work from home) approach to politics even before the pandemic made this popular, I am frustrated by his "will he- won't he?" attitude to the Presidentship of the party, I am puzzled by his strategy of trying to be all things to all men, which is obviously not working, at times I am even incensed at his inability to strike a chord with other opposition parties, and even his own colleagues. The astute reader would have noticed by now that I find a lot of faults in Mr. Gandhi.
And yet today, when India is perched on the precipice of an unthinkable abyss, I admire him and the lonely courage he has been displaying even as the "rough beast" of the Second Coming slouches ever closer.
Courage, because it is displayed in the face of "Pappu" memes by Whatsapp boneheads, courage despite being the derisory butt of jokes in Delhi's fashionable salons, the prime time whipping boy of auctioned anchors, the single-point target of the BJP- and yet he has held his course and has not taken his eyes off the ball, a ball which has been tampered beyond recognition by an authoritarian govt under the watch of an umpire in judicial robes which too are beginning to fray.
I doubt if any political figure in recent times has been calumnified and vilified so much, with so little justification and such pronounced double standards.
When the BJP loses an election it is the party's fault, but when the Congress loses one it is Rahul Gandhi's fault. Mr Modi can flaunt a tilak on his forehead but Rahul Gandhi cannot wear his janau on his shoulder. Mr. Modi as Chief Minister could raise questions on the country's security but Mr. Gandhi as leader of the largest opposition party cannot.
Just about every political party in India is headed by a "dynast", or is crawling with them, but only Rahul Gandhi is singled out for condemnation. The BJP is no exception to dynastic urges either, it's just that it has not been in power long enough: give it another term and it too will fully conform to the golden rule of our politics- that politics is not public service, it's just another business, and like all businesses succession should always be from within the family.
No, sir, the reason the BJP has sold the dynast theory to the media is simply this: the Congress, even in this, its darkest hour, still has a committed vote bank of 20% which must be prised away from the Gandhis to secure the Hindu rashtra. The other parties are small fry, not one of them has even 5% vote share.
For the fact, unpalatable to many in the media, the elite and the brain-washed multitudes is that the only Opposition in India today is Rahul Gandhi.
All the other so-called opposition " leaders" ( the Mayawatis, Naidus and Akhilesh Yadavs) have gone to ground, hoping to make themselves invisible to the ED, CBI and Income Tax chaps. Some of the others ( like Sharad Pawar, YSR and KCR) have either kept their back doors open for a quick exit to the BJP when the hounds get too close, or are too busy dousing their own kitchen fires, like Mamta Bannerjee, or have buried their heads in the sands playing dead, like Navin Patnaik.
No one else speaks about, or questions the government on, the visceral issues that are tearing this country apart: the iron curtain drawn around Kashmir, police excesses, CAA, the Delhi riots, the desecration of universities, the mishandling of the pandemic, the destruction of all constitutional institutions, the environmental vandalism of the proposed new EIA, the sorry state of our higher judiciary, the auction of public properties to selected cronies, the capitulation to China in Ladakh and elsewhere, the brazen lying on every subject?
The silence of the Opposition parties is only emboldening a dispensation which genetically cannot have any respect for any other point of view, and is contemptuous of the public's right to be informed.
One of the biggest casualties of political intercourse in these last few years has been the language in which politicians conduct it- full of hatred, anger, contempt and abuse. Mr. Gandhi has brought a certain decency and civility to the political discourse, in manner, conduct and language, qualities to which the ruling party and its spokesmen are total strangers. We may not agree with what he is saying but we cannot fault him for the manner in which he speaks.
This is not to say that every question raised, or every inference drawn, by Mr. Gandhi is correct or justified. It is to emphasise that he is the only one at least asking the questions, who is not maintaining an opportunistic silence, and for this I am prepared to walk the extra mile to forget, if not forgive, his many real and imagined deficiencies.
His is the only voice to remind us of all of that is going horribly wrong in our country, and to caution the government and the voter. It is axiomatic that for a democracy a strong government is optional, but a strong Opposition is essential.
Democracy can live with a weak government and a strong Opposition, but it will not long survive a strong government and a weak Opposition. It is not my argument for a moment that Mr. Modi should be condemned, my argument is that he should be held accountable and asked questions, whether or not he deigns to answer them.
To the extent that Mr. Gandhi is at least attempting to do so, he is discharging his dharma as an opposition politician while the others are cowering in their well padded dens. For this he should be commended, not vilified or mocked.
History is usually a reliable guide to the shape of things to come, if only we would pay attention to it and tear ourselves away from those ubiquitous Whatsapp forwards. Turn back the pages of history to this extract from perhaps the most authoritative book on the fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s and the events leading up to the Second World War, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer:
" No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic .......... The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it. At the crest of their popular strength in July 1932, the National Socialists had attained but 37 percent of the vote. But the 63 percent of the German people who expressed their opposition to (it) were much too divided and shortsighted to combine against a common danger which they must have known would overwhelm them unless they united, however temporarily, to stamp them out."
Do the vote percentages ring a bell, dear reader?