The Congress recently won elections in Karnataka, and the side story was the deflation of Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi. He campaigned in the state (and received raucous crowds as usual) but his party was hammered. This is seen, correctly, as his inability to influence national elections.
To me, however, the side story is different. It is a story of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s shaming. The two campaigned aggressively in a state where their party was scheduled to win according to every opinion poll. In comparison, only a few months ago, they were all but absent from Gujarat, a state where they were headed for defeat.
Whatever else one may think of Modi and his managing of Gujarat, it is true that he is brave and commits himself. He would surely have known that his speeches would not sway an election in South India, but he came and he attacked the Congress. It was a selfless act for his party and a statement on his unchanging beliefs. This cannot be said of the Gandhis on the evidence of these two elections. They displayed opportunism and a fear of defeat that is bordering on cowardice. Let me give an example.
In the 2002 elections in Gujarat, as pointed out by The Hindu, the Congress had two manifestos. It had one in English, about secularism and “the soul of India”. It had another in Gujarati, where this was not referred to. The paper explained why this was the case:
“The Gujarati version of the manifesto has no space for secularism, the ideas of nationhood or even for denunciations of the Congress’ chief opponent that the English one has. This seems to suggest that the Congress has accepted the BJP’s formulation that concern for India’s secular Constitution is restricted to a rump of English speakers, some, no doubt, among its party members. What is terrifying about this ham-handed piece of political cynicism is the assumption that the English speaking/English reading class can be silenced with words. And, that the Congress’ claim to inheriting the legacy of independence can be sustained through a linguistically targeted text. It would be facile to suggest that the Congress and the BJP are the same creature. But, while the BJP actively pursues an ideological agenda, the Congress has reduced its own to context-free slogans. If those whose hopes are riding on a Congress victory expect justice, and through it, the restitution of the constitutionally guaranteed rights, life and liberty, then they will be disappointed. For, there is nothing in the Congress’ record to suggest that once in power, it will make such a course of action a priority.”
In December’s election, the English manifesto had also removed the obligatory references that were present 10 years ago. I was surprised at going through the manifesto to see that even the conviction of a minister was ignored. Only months before, Maya Kodnani, Modi’s minister for women and child welfare, was convicted for organising the murder of 98 Gujaratis, including three dozen women and children.
Why would the Congress choose to abstain from pointing this out? On television debates, I was told by Congress spokespersons that it was because “everyone knows it”. That was a lie. The fact is that the Congressmen of the state convinced Sonia that there was no gain in pushing a secular line in Gujarat. Most Gujaratis are communal and will reject the message — is the logic — so let’s move on from that. This was bought as pragmatism The Gandhis should have chucked the idea of winning in Gujarat and stood on a matter of principle. They have lost three elections in Gujarat anyway, so why sacrifice principle and ideology on such a poor gamble? The truth is that the line dividing pragmatism from opportunism can be fine and the Congress has crossed it.
Who will fight for pluralism in India if not the party of Gandhi and Nehru? They would be ashamed of the Congress today, and particularly of the opportunistic behaviour of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.
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