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A Baptism Of Fire

A Baptism Of Fire

Politics is the art of the possible and every political party is entitled to take steps that lead to victory at the hustings. One political party has been rampantly using violence in the name of religion to win successive elections at the Central and state levels. If a pogrom can help it succeed, it would not mind resorting to it, unabashedly, as in Gujarat.

I do not know how many people realise that it was a series of riots, especially in western UP, which helped it to achieve the kind of victory it achieved in 2014. Some of the villains of the piece were made MLAs, MPs and ministers, though they deserved to be sent to jails.

This particular party has been using its propaganda machinery, aided and abetted by the government, to do everything possible to portray the grand old Congress as a corrupt, dynastic party. Its leaders have been ridiculing the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi as a nincompoop.

Vicious stories are spread about him to show him in a poor light. No allowance is given to the fact that he won the 2014 elections, despite the BJP fielding a glamorous personality against him.

The pettiness of the party was such that in the seating arrangements for the Republic Day parade last year, Rahul Gandhi was seated in the sixth row. What’s more, the ruling party did not give the Congress parliamentary party leader the status of the Leader of Opposition on the specious plea that it did not have enough members in the House to claim the post.

In the recent elections in four states, the BJP was trounced lock, stock and barrel. The Congress formed governments in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. In sharp contrast to the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been treating Opposition leaders, including some of his own party members, the outgoing chief ministers in the three states were given seats on the dais at the oath-taking ceremonies.

Modi who elevated the likes of LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to a body of advisers in the party but did not hold a single meeting to consult them should have learnt his lesson in the manner in which the former CMs were treated in the three states.

The BJP’s portrayal of Rahul Gandhi as a buffoon was rejected by the people who began to flock to him wherever he went. In the Gujarat election, the Congress would have emerged the winner if Modi had not resorted to communal propaganda at the last minute.

However, in the three states such tricks did not succeed and, as a result, the Congress is in power there. The point to be noted is that Rahul Gandhi might have the benefit of dynasty but he had to fight all the way to the leadership of the Congress.

The victory, first in Punjab, then in Karnataka, and now in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, has proved that he has come of age. He is now a leader in his own merit. Nobody can say that he was installed in power.

If Gandhi has chosen to bring his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra into a party position, it is his prerogative as president of the party to do so. Yet, the BJP has been going to town crying “dynasty, dynasty”.

Did anyone in any party question the appointment of Modi’s Sancho Panza as the party chief? Did anyone question Amit Shah’s decision to appoint a political non-entity like Kummanam Rajasekharan as the BJP Chief in Kerala and then elevate him to a gubernatorial post? No, I do not deny his long association with the RSS.

Shah has made hundreds of such appointments only because he is the party president. Did any Congress leader question his decisions? That is considered an internal affair of the party.

Now, why should the BJP question Rahul Gandhi’s decision to make her a general secretary in charge of eastern UP?

As regards dynasty, how can the BJP forget that out of the 281 Lok Sabha members it has, 38 are there because of dynastic reasons. In the Rajya Sabha, nine out of its 56 members have dynastic connections.

In Modi’s own 75-member Ministry, 15 ministers are there because of dynasty. The former Rajasthan Chief Minister was the daughter of a former BJP vice-president, called by her pre-privy purse title Rajamata. Her son is an MP. So are the sons of former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh.

When Sanjay Gandhi-Maneka Gandhi’s son is fielded as a Lok Sabha candidate, it is not dynasty but when Sonia Gandhi’s daughter takes up a party position, it is derided as dynasty.

The point is that Rahul Gandhi did not appoint Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to a position of power. Instead, she has been given a responsibility which is quite an arduous one. In eastern UP, the Congress is simply not present. It does not hold any Lok Sabha seat. It has only one MLA from the region. 

The vote share of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections was about 7 per cent. Priyanka Gandhi’s job is to turn the table against the BJP and bring the maximum number of MPs from the region. How can this be questioned by the ruling party?

In fact, everyone should welcome young people joining politics. Nobody is sure how the arrival of Priyanka Gandhi in eastern UP would impact electoral politics. By-elections in UP showed that the BJP was no longer in the pink of health. Forget the fact that it could not save the seat vacated by Yogi Adityanath, it has lost in other places, too, where the anti-BJP forces came together.

Modi may have to think of contesting from another seat if the combined Opposition puts up a candidate like Swami Agnivesh against him in Varanasi. In short, the BJP is vulnerable in UP and who does not know that if it loses UP, it loses power at the Centre?

In the Mahabharata war, there are descriptions of the ultimate weapons some of the leading characters like Arjuna and Bheeshma held. They were entitled to use it when the situation warranted.

Now, the question here is, is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra the deadly Brahmastra she is supposed to be? She has some electoral experience having campaigned for her mother and brother in the Raebareli and Amethi constituencies.

She had proved that she had a way with the people. She was also found good at dealing with the Press, unlike Modi who has never addressed a Press conference since coming to power at the Centre. He likes to be listened to. He does not like to be a listener.

Priyanka Gandhi is young, articulate and has family traditions which will stand her in good stead in the elections. No one knows this better than the BJP. That is why it has been viciously attacking her.

What forced the Congress to decide to contest all the seats in UP was the hasty alliance the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party formed in the state. The alliance was ready to forsake only two seats represented by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

No self-respecting party would agree to such a deal, particularly when the Congress is in power on its own in four large North Indian states. It is foolish on the part of the SP-BSP leaders not to associate the Congress with them. 

The SP has an argument that its deal with the Congress did not pay dividends in the last UP Assembly elections. The argument is well-founded but the situation in the country has changed drastically.

Today, the Congress is no longer seen as an old party which is past its prime. There are many who see in Rahul Gandhi an alternative to Modi, who ruled the last four and a half years as a virtual dictator.

All his mega schemes like Skill India, Make in India and Swachch Bharat have proved to be non-starters. He has a Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh who is willing to send his ministers to foreign countries to invite people to the Kumbh Mela for which he is ready to spend hundreds of crores of rupees.

Yogi Adityanath’s love for cow is such that farmers have started using government schools to lock up starving cows and bullocks for fear that they might destroy their crops. He does not understand that nobody can rear cows, if they cannot be slaughtered when they become unproductive.

He is even ready to turn a blind eye to the killing of a police inspector if the perpetrators of the killing were worked up over the finding of the body parts of a cow or bull in a forest area. He does not even consider the possibility that the cattle could have been killed by a wild animal.

Adityanath has a Muslim lady representing the ward in which his religious headquarter at Gorakhpur is situated. Yet, he is fielded as the vote-gatherer in states like Telangana.

Be that as it may, how will Priyanka’s arrival on the scene benefit the Congress? True, the Congress is in a bad shape in UP. How did this happen? It happened when the Upper Castes like the Brahmins and the Rajputs began supporting the BJP. The Dalits who were the strong supporters of the party moved away to the BSP.

The death knell for the Congress was sounded when, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Muslims said goodbye to the party. That left the party with only 7 per cent of support in the state.

The image of the Congress has changed. Rahul Gandhi is seen by many as the next Prime Minister. Even if he does not become one, he will be in a position to decide who would be the PM.

Once the perception of the people that the Congress is a losing party changes, a large number of people would vote for it. Modi’s campaign that the UPA regime was corrupt would no longer attract the voters for he could not take action against a single Congressman. Instead, the court has found that some of the scams like the spectrum allocation were bogus.

In other words, the Congress does not suffer from incumbency. This will help instil confidence among the youth. Given the traditional hold the Nehru-Gandhi family enjoys in the state, Rahul and Priyanka’s job would be to build upon this base.

No doubt, whatever success the Congress makes will be at the cost of either the BJP or the SP-BSP alliance. The role the Muslims will play in the election is crucial. Will they return to the Congress fold if they find that a Congress regime at the Centre would not be prejudiced against them.

The Upper Castes, especially the Brahmins, who are disenchanted with the BJP, may not support the SP-BSP combine. They may like to vote for the Congress. This itself will make the Congress a formidable force in the state.

In 2009, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership had shown a measure of rejuvenation which could not be continued mainly because of the rise of Modi. Today Modi may not be a spent force but he is no longer able to sell his dreams.

Given this backdrop, the Congress would be able to garner a few more seats in the coming elections. Dynasty may be bad. Mayawati’s may not be a case of dynasty but she succeeded her mentor Kanshi Ram. The SP is led by a dynastic leader. So are the TDP, the DMK, the National Conference and the Kerala Congress, to name a few.

Thus, on the question of dynasty, all political parties, including the BJP, are naked under their clothes. In a country where journalists, doctors, lawyers, military officers and actors are happy that their children have followed them in their footsteps, why make an exception in the case of Priyanka Gandhi?

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 28th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 05)