Skip to main content

RG is indeed discovering new territories. But there is a long way to go in channelizing the discontent... and building bridges

By Anand K. Sahay*
Rahul Gandhi, derided as soft in the head by a committed but unprincipled social media army (directed by an invisible hand), with sniper support from regulars, stunned detractors when he made quite a decent speech at Berkeley recently.
He answered probing questions from the university audience with candour, unlike the devious politicians who are deemed serious and capable because they offer opaque answers with double meanings that send out self-congratulatory messages to followers and mean threats to opponents. Throughout, the Congress leader displayed a lack of rancour, a touch of wit, and due regard for decorum.
This was enough to set the cat among the pigeons. Heavy artillery was deployed to dismantle Mr. Gandhi, although the Congressman is routinely lampooned as inadequate and inept by BJP-RSS. BJP chief Amit Shah made a quick jab below the belt. A cabinet minister aimed poison darts. Smriti Irani, a regime favourite, used her cabinet position to hog television time as she shot missiles dripping venom at the Congress leader.
This comes naturally to Ms. Irani, who made bold to assert that while some people had to work hard to reach where they’d got, the dynast had got everything on a platter. Naturally, people are curious to know in what positions this minister has toiled to bag plum cabinet posts after losing her Parliament election.
It is clear to everyone- even Mr. Modi’s cabinet colleagues- that the PM couldn’t have pulled off the trick that RG did. He is short on intellectual fibre. He is good at something else though, else he wouldn’t have been able to cash in on people’s urge for a “strong leadership”.
He brags without inhibition (Lord Krishna would have disapproved), he calls himself “Son of India”, he says those who preceded him were “against progress”, and he has worn a coat in public that cost lakhs of rupees (betraying a deep-seated sense of anxiety behind the bold facade). These unusual attributes in the top leader were lapped up by the masses. They thought they had found their man. He seemed to attack the elites. They were certain he would look after their interests.
But that time is past. Mr. Modi looks defeated when he takes the stage these days. He proffers jaded propaganda- eg, farmers’ incomes will double in five years; this at a time when more farmers are committing suicide every day across India than ever before. Also, employment is rapidly shrinking
No wonder Mr. Modi doesn’t answer any questions, leave alone searching ones. He has no time for journalists, even less for his own MPs and ministers, who bow and scrape before him as before a sultan of yore, worried that they might be ejected from the gravy train otherwise.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj offered a typical example recently. At the UN General Assembly, she covered the routine on Pakistan being the home of terrorism, and then launched into the PM’s fulsome praise for programmes such as Stand Up India and what have you, as she might at an election rally. “Good Luck India! Good Bye India!” One can almost hear that coming. Modi’s India looks badly faded. It is divided and despairing.
In the three years Mr Modi has been around, he has used the state apparatus to intimidate opponents. In his name, thugs have let loose repression on Muslims, the dalit community (although the PM courts Ambedkar flagrantly, hoping to win dalit votes), poor tribal people, holders of contrary opinion, and intellectuals.
The return of state awards by prestigious writers, thinkers, artists and the hit-style murders of rationalists and dissenting journalists inspired nationwide protests, but the bhakts or regime supporters are unfazed. Erdogan’s Turkey has despatched opponents to jail. We are not there yet. But the age of fear is upon us, and the age of attacks on the nation’s poorest. This takes us beyond authoritarianism- to a place from which quasi-fascism does not look so far.
State’s hungry beasts have been let loose on a particular television station, which in recent times has attempted to do straightforward, old-fashioned, journalism instead of keeling over like the rest and becoming a servitor of the regime. The CBI is now a monster unchained. A former IAS officer and now a well known activist for communal harmony, currently touring the country with young people to spread the message of societal peace, is being threatened by the tax brutes.
As for the PM’s ability to guide the country with sophistication and intellect (a requirement in a complex society like India), it will suffice to explore the contents of his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme. There is no need to dissect crucial issues such as demonetisation, GST, ‘surgical strike’, Swachch Bharat, Stand Up India, etcetera.
No wonder, every economic metric points to a tired, shrinking economy with little hope of recovery in the foreseeable future. People are seething with discontent. The farmers are in revolt. RSS’ student front, the ABVP, has lost university students’ election across India, although the important tests lie in UP and Bihar. When the PM was in his constituency Varanasi last week, a thousand BHU women students protested life under the regime, including pointing to sexual violence, but Mr. Modi had no time for them. They were lathi-charged. The friendly media looked the other way.
The PM and his cohorts give the call to protect India’s honour and self-respect through militarism. Their way is to pay overt obeisance to the armed forces. The establishment speaks of placing tanks at university campuses to inculcate a healthy dose of patriotism among young people. Any day, one expects ministers to arrive at cabinet meetings wearing jackboots and epaulettes. But can you honour the soldier when you dishonour the farmer? Isn’t the jawan the “kisan in uniform”?
Small wonder the world is eager to hear Mr. Gandhi’s message. People are paying attention partly because he put it across with remarkable ease- and pointed to truths that people already knew. After Berkeley, he highlighted the rising unemployment and falling growth rates at Princeton, besides being substantive on India, China and the world.
RG is indeed discovering new territories. But there is a long way to go in channelizing the discontent and building bridges with the non-BJP parties, besides fixing his own badly suffering Congress.

Comments

TRENDING

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Hindutva founders, not Congress, were actual 'proponents' of two-nation theory

By Shamsul Islam*
No other organization, in the present world, can beat Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in double-speak. In fact, what George Orwell termed as "doublespeak" would be an understatement in the case of RSS. The latest proof of this nasty case was provided by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, de facto Prime Minister and senior RSS leader in the Lok Sabha (akin to the House of Commons in England) on December 9, 2019.

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ships recycling Bill 'allows' India to be turned into a landfill for foreign hazardous waste

Counterview Desk
In a letter to M Venkaiah Naidu, chairman, Rajya Sabha, senior activist Gopal Krishna of the Toxics Watch Alliance has said that the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 should be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change to "safeguard country’s maritime environment from harmful and hazardous wastes and materials".

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

80 RTI activists killed since 2014, yet Modi govt 'refuses' to implement whistleblowers Act

By Our Representative
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over power in 2014 at the Centre, more than 80 have been killed “in their quest for information and accountability” through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a public hearing in Delhi has been told. Senior politicians from opposition parties, including Congress and Left, heard people express their anguish over the manner in which the government was treating the RTI Act, even as refusing to operationalise the Whistleblower Protection Act, passed in 2014.