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Con Without Grace

Given the Indian National Congress’s die-hard romance with the Palestinian ‘cause’, one could rationalise the party’s bemoaning of India’s recent policy of distancing from the Muslim nation and cosying up to a Jewish Israel. But that was not to be. The oldest party of the country chose to rather mock at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apparent penchant for hugging the heads of states he meets on various occasions. This indicates two possibilities: The cyber team of the party either lacks a perspective of history, wherein one could see their own Indira Gandhi hugging Cuba’s Fidel Castro and other important people of her times, or it lacks the maturity to foresee that its comical criticism of rival Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders could come across as lacking taste. In the not so distant past, the team’s effort to project the soft side of their leader through his pet Pidi had not quite worked out. The problem would, however, be less grave if the lack of tact were limited to a bunch of youngsters who manage the party’s Twitter handle @INCIndia.

Even as the INC was preparing to coronate dynast Rahul Gandhi as its next president, it had embarked on a path of cynical politics, roping in mutually disparate caste leaders Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor as allies for the Gujarat elections. Pro-Congress journalists also saw in Gandhi’s “janeu-dhari” act an attempt to rebrand the party away from the perception, voiced famously by veteran AK Antony, that it was anti-Hindu. While BJP’s loss in Gujarat would have been a massive setback to Modi and Amit Shah before the next general elections, a win for the INC would have seen its coalition unravel sooner rather than later. The challenge was not restricted to the riddle of managing reservations for Patidars beyond the percentage set by the Supreme Court. The problem would also involve allies Mevani and Thakor turning against their own government, as they had vowed, much before the alliance was forged, to not let the Patels get away with a quota from their communities’ share.

Soon thereafter, the INC made common cause with the demonstrators of Bhima-Koregaon. Cultivating Dalits as a vote-bank is one thing, inciting them so much that both Hindu society and Indian nation is threatened to be wrecked is quite another. Rahul Gandhi’s party failed to smell a rat in the organisers’ act of inviting a Maoist Soni Sori, member of the All India Personal Law Board Maulana Abdul Hamid Azhari and a brazen anti-India student activist Umar Khalid from Jawaharlal Nehru University, none of whom had anything to do with the Scheduled Castes. Or, perhaps, the INC connived with them. Anything that helps cornering the BJP is fine!

And then, the party pushed its lawyer-members to endorse an act of ‘out-of-court settlement’ of a supposed dispute over case allocations by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. As Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal and KTS Tulsi cheered the quartet of Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, Gogoi, several reports in the media called their bluff one by one: First, Justice Loya’s kin said they suspected no foul play in the death of the judge. Two, a research of cases handled by the apex court revealed that 15 cases of utmost importance had been allocated to junior judges of the court in the past 20 years, which is to say that the current CJI did nothing unprecedented. Three, media reported that Justice Misra had had an illustrious career since 1977. Four, the four rebellious judges, eating a humble pie, have joined routine work.

As if all this were not enough, Gandhi also fixes appointments with China’s ambassador to India and other Chinese delegates at the most inopportune of moments!

The coming 15 odd months before the election of 2019 may throw up several opportunities before the INC to project the ruling party in bad light. The lookout for such chances is perfectly fine for a party in the opposition. The issue is why it is getting its strategy and the implications wrong every time. Unlike the rambunctious regional parties, it has more at stake — mainly the pride it seeks in being a (or “the”) party that came to power fighting for the independence of the country from British rule. It now comes across as a party that wishes a Balkanisation of India! Has it countenanced what fraction of the nation will the country be left with for the INC to rule when some day in the future it returns to power?

Working under the shadow of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul used to attract snide remarks for his slips of the tongue during public speeches and awkwardness in facing interviews and press conferences. If his intellect is indeed challenged, it poses a serious threat to society now, as power brokers — whom his father had famously slammed in 1985, but whom he couldn’t get rid of — and multiple control heads appear to be pulling the organisation in different directions all at once, taking advantage of their clueless leader. On the one hand, in Karnataka, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah invokes in his speeches the questionable allegation of “Hindu terror” and seeks to ally with a front of the Islamist platform, the Popular Front of India, which is about to be declared a terrorist organisation. On the other, Gandhi begins his Uttar Pradesh tour with a visit to the Churva Hanuman Mandir on the Lucknow-Rae Bareli Road.

The irony is now no longer about the person who had once said that temple-goers were eve-teasers and who recently flaunted the hitherto unseen sacred, Brahminical thread. It is a ‘Hindu’ makeover of Brand Rahul and simultaneous pandering to Islamism by other party leaders. If the likes of Siddaramaiah have taken off from where Digvijaya Singh seems to have retired hurt, only the naïve would conclude that the scenario betrays sheer confusion in the ranks of the INC. Leaving aside the few 20-somethings that manage the party’s Twitter handle and Facebook page, the rest are too seasoned to not get the ramifications of their schemes. Being a vast organisation, it is better placed than the Trinamool Congress head and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the con job. The poor lady has to humour an Imam Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati at some point and call a Brahmin Sammelan at another — all on her own!

From a bird’s eye view of the shenanigans over a period of time, however, all that the INC is managing is appearing to be falling from grace with one devious act after another. It is not merely the nationalism of Indira Gandhi, the political hero of the 1971 war for Bangladesh, or that of Rajiv Gandhi who intervened in Sri Lanka and Maldives, which is far behind today’s Congress. Keeping aside the humiliating defeat of 1962 due to sheer unpreparedness, Indian society never felt such strain under Jawaharlal Nehru. Perhaps with her shrewdness, Sonia Gandhi was not making the game look so obvious, never mind the Communal Violence Bill that created a flutter for some time. With the ailing mother retired, the nonplussed son, his coterie, strategists, advisers, old-timers, new-timers and an overzealous social media team are projecting the INC in a manner absolutely shorn of grace. If the country is an entity they are not concerned about, they must get their act together at least for the survival of the grand old party.

Surajit Dasgupta

By Surajit Dasgupta

The founder of Sirf News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group.

He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.