IT is distinctly possible that Narendra Modi won’t be the next prime minister, and Rahul Gandhi is not the only one saying that. Of course, there are two more suspenseful laps to go before the May 23 results come in.
As Rahul and others have guessed, neither Balakot has worked for Modi, nor the blasting of a satellite. The Hindutva campaign is clearly missing the 2014 communal frenzy of Muzaffarnagar, which single-handedly delivered the lavish victory to Modi in the vote-rich northern states.
On another front, the opposition has thwarted any potential relief to Modi from Masood Azhar’s global indictment. Swift comparisons came in with the Mumbai terror attacks when China took a mere 14 days (during the Manmohan Singh tenure) to endorse a similar measure against Hafiz Saeed.
Rahul Gandhi rarely fails to point out that defeat and desperation are writ clearly on Modi’s face. A ‘non political’ interview was staged with a movie star, in which the leader of a billon-plus people spoke about ways to eat mangoes. When even that didn’t wash, his party began to hurl street language at the rivals. Modi didn’t spare Rajiv Gandhi’s memory, screaming to a rally that the assassinated former prime minister had died as a thief.
If Rahul Gandhi does make it as prime minister, where would he locate his ideology between Nehru and Gandhi, who didn’t always concur on key issues?
The outrageous theatrics and angry hand-slapping were anticipated in an old verse. “Lagey moonh bhi chirhaaney detay detay gaaliyan saahab/ Zubaan bigri to bigri thi, khabar leejeay dahan bigra.” (What began with cursing was bad enough, but now you’re making faces too/ The visage looks terribly contorted, and that’s not good for you.)
Suppose this is as good as it looks for Modi. “Your days are numbered,” Rahul responded with a “hug and love” to the prime minister’s slanderous speech. The duel is on regardless of the merit Imran Khan sees in Modi’s right-wing bearings. Khan’s views about right-wingers come from a single experience of what Nixon told Mao in Beijing. For the record, Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto delivered the Shimla Agreement despite their brinkmanship. Manmohan Singh was tantalisingly close to clinching a Kashmir deal when, for better or worse, Gen Musharraf was derailed.
Does Khan even realise that his assumption on who can solve the Kashmir tangle implies that he too is a right-winger, which he probably isn’t though many of his Pakistani critics live with precisely that fear?
Assuming that Modi will not get the numbers, what happens next? And this is where Rahul Gandhi worries his many supporters. He has evolved into an impressive orator, and his party has produced an election manifesto that would have impressed Nehru.
His pacesetter sister Priyanka Gandhi speaks more simply though and thus with greater impact. Her video of playing casually with poisonous snakes after a chance meeting with a snake charmer in her mother’s Rae Bareli constituency, and her impish proclamation that her daughter was equally at ease with such minor adventures, should make Modi’s claim of playing with crocodiles as a child look overcooked if also opaque, like his secret academic certificates.
Why is Rahul a worry? He says he respects critical players who are fighting Narendra Modi in the elections, but he wouldn’t forge alliances with them, to deleterious effect, some would insist, because the Congress had to pursue its own ideology.
If the horse befriends the grass, the saying goes, what would it eat? That’s sound logic. But what is that illusion of an ideology he says he is wedded to? And how is that ideology different from say that of Mamata Banerjee or Arvind Kejriwal, Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav and even with the communists against whom he has set up candidates while seeing them as ardent opponents of Modi?
And how has that ideology bonded with a decades-old former rival like Chandrababu Naidu but not others?
If Rahul Gandhi does make it as prime minister, assuming that the Congress gets more votes than the rest of the opposition groups together, and he is able to outbid Dalit leader Mayawati as a serious candidate, where would he locate his ideology between Nehru and Gandhiji, who didn’t always concur on key issues?
He could, of course, argue that the times have changed and India has grown, even galloped. Currently, the Congress could be construed as a party that has learnt to lean heavily on a buccaneer class of mercantile capitalists, a far cry from Japan’s post-Meiji industrial entrepreneurs in ethics and grit.
Is it industry to get a bandwidth machine from abroad, buy air corridors with bribes, and import mobile phones from China to outbid the struggling public-owned telecom body by getting a pliable government to throttle it? To Rahul’s credit, he has slammed crony capitalism throughout the election campaign, but going by the experience of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and his own father, good intentions can come to naught if a retinue of mediocre colleagues, hangers-on and poor advisers get the better of the leaders.
Gandhiji called national tycoons the trustees of new India. Nehru jailed Ramkrishna Dalmiya, the biggest of the trustees, for fraud, Indira Gandhi nationalised their banks, Rajiv Gandhi warned them to get off the backs of the Congress workers. But Manmohan Singh co-opted them as visionaries of his new India. He declared tribespeople fighting for land and forest rights as the biggest internal security threat to India. He described as foreign agents poor villagers protesting a scary nuclear power unit in their neighbourhood.
Rahul should visit Lucknow and see how the BJP has hounded the eminently multicultural and secular family of the Raja of Mahmudabad, and the Raja’s wife, daughter of Jagat Mehta, Vajpayee’s foreign secretary, who now live in fear, condemned jointly by the Congress and the BJP as enemies of the state. Let’s hear of Rahul’s ideology from Rahul himself and see how it fares against others fighting to defeat Modi, for a just and equitable future.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2019