Did Rahul Gandhi insult India in London?
The BJP has unleashed a vilification campaign against Rahul Gandhi. The party is alleging that his speeches at Cambridge University and at other forums in London caused a lowering of India's image
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has once again been the target of the BJP. The BJP has unleashed a vilification campaign against him. The party is alleging that his speeches at Cambridge University and at other forums in London caused a lowering of India's image. It is saying that Rahul has insulted the nation by making statements about democracy and politics in India. It objects to his said negative comments on the functioning of parliament and considers them unpatriotic. The most serious allegation the BJP is making is about Rahul’s alleged appeal to Europeans and others to intervene. The party considered his remarks to be too important to rest with condemning them. It decided to stall the proceedings of Parliament. This is unprecedented in our parliamentary history for the Treasury Bench to stall the proceedings of the House. The parliamentary norms hardly permit it. The opposition takes to stalling the parliamentary proceedings when it desires to force the government to focus on certain issues that it considers important but is being ignored. It has been the sole privilege of the opposition party. The Treasury Bench has the responsibility of running the house smoothly. This is the first instance when a ruling party has assumed the role of the opposition and is stalling the house. The reversal of roles will jeopardize the normal functioning of Parliament, and it will not be able to perform its primary roles of legislating and administering.
Why is the ruling party making a farce of Parliament? After all, to whom are the BJP members addressing themselves? The party is in the government and has the authority to take legal action against Rahul Gandhi if his speeches in London about the climate of democracy in India violate Indian laws. Is it not a dereliction of duty if it is not taking action against an illegal act by the Congress leader? If allegations are purely political and part of a routine exercise of condemning the opposition, the BJP must refrain; it is not expected to stall the house. This goes both against parliamentary traditions and the constitution.
The demand of the ruling party also makes its point weak when it is only asking for an apology from Rahul Gandhi. How can the Congress leader escape judicial scrutiny after committing the crime of inviting foreign powers to intervene in an internal Indian matter?
However, the BJP’s actions are not at all unexpected. It has been on a tirade against the opposition, particularly the Congress party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has even coined the slogan Congress Mukta Bharat" (Congress-free India). He has unhesitatingly used the term in election after election. It clearly reflects his views on the arrangements in a functioning democracy. Can a political party publicly boast of nurturing such an aspiration in a multi-party parliamentary setting? The recent happenings in Parliament have only confirmed that the BJP does not feel obliged to follow the basics of democracy. Prime Minister Modi never convenes a press conference. We also never hear of any all-party meetings. His response is largely subjective. The state of Indian democracy could be understood by going through various reports from international watchdogs. While the U.S. non-profit organization Freedom House considers India a "partially free democracy", the Swedish V-Dem Institute has termed it an "electoral autocracy". The rankings are not without reasons.
It also needs an examination as to what Rahul Gandhi has said in the U.K. Does it really go against the prestige of the country? The TV channels and the BJP ministers are quoting him wrongly.
Law minister Kiren Rijiju says, "Rahul Gandhi doesn't have any right to insult the nation. But if he tries to harm the nation, we won't remain silent, and we won't forgive him!" Does his allegation hold any water if we see the speeches? Rahul Gandhi clearly says that the problem is internal and that the solution is going to come from inside.
"Look, first of all, this is our problem; it is an internal problem and it is India’s problem, and the solution is going to come from inside; it is not going to come from outside. However, the scale of democracy in India means that democracy in India is a global public good. It impacts way further than our boundaries."
"If Indian democracy collapses, in my view, democracy on the planet suffers a very serious, possibly fatal blow. So, it is important for you too. It is not just important for us. We will deal with our problem, but you must be aware that this problem is going to play out on a global scale. It is not just going to play out in India, and what you do about it is, of course, up to you. You must be aware of what is happening in India - the idea of a democratic model is being attacked and threatened."
Is anything insulting in this remark of Rahul at Chatham House in London? What is wrong with it if he apprises the British audience of what is happening in India? Is he wrong in saying that what happens to democracy in India impacts the planet? Can we imagine an isolated polity in an era of globalized economies? Is he wrong in pointing out that the idea of democracy is being attacked globally, and the Indian case is no different?
Several political observers suggest that it would have benefited him and the Congress immensely if he had stayed back in India after conducting the fabulous Bharat Jodo Yatra and concentrated on mobilizing the masses. According to them, his trip has given the BJP an opportunity to attack him. We should not forget that the BJP’s attack continued even after he was in India after the yatra. His speeches in Parliament were expunged.
(The author is a senior journalist. He has experience of working with leading newspapers and electronic media including Deccan Herald, Sunday Guardian, Navbharat Times and Dainik Bhaskar. He writes on politics, society, environment and economy)