RIGHT Foot Forward
Why a full-blown Modi-RSS Vs Rahul Gandhi and the rest in 2019 will be disastrous for India
One can only wish real issues will prevail over rhetoric and propaganda. Media and intelligentsia need to rise above partisanship.
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Speaking at an election rally in Chhattisgarh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi referred to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son featuring in the so-called 'Panama Papers'. He then went on to allege that no action has been taken because the Chief Minister of the state is corrupt, the Prime Minister himself is corrupt.
Over the last year or so Rahul Gandhi has been progressively upping the ante against the Prime Minister on corruption. From accusing him of crony capitalism and being a friend of corrupt industrialists, he has moved onto calling Narendra Modi “chor” without mincing words.
By all accounts and appearances, the Congress is carrying out a systematic and well-planned campaign. Apart from its own analytics cell, it is believed to have deployed field researchers to gauge the impact and reactions of voters. So, these are not cavalier statements that Rahul Gandhi is making on the election trail. These are well-scripted speeches and considered positions. The strategy must be backed by data that shows the accusations are sticking after the Pandora’s Box on Rafale was opened.
Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Chhattisgarh. (Credit: Twitter)
This should be a matter of concern for the BJP because so far, a Teflon-coated clean image has been Narendra Modi’s USP (unique selling proposition). It is clear that the Congress is trying to do a Bofors on Modi with Rafale. In fact, the Congress’ newspaper the National Herald carried a banner headline calling “Rafale: Modi’s Bofors”.
How Modi and the BJP will respond to this is yet to be seen. But, react they surely will because they cannot allow the Prime Minister’s reputation of being incorruptible get sullied. One saving grace for the BJP being, as some commentators have pointed out, Rahul Gandhi is no VP Singh, who had a lily-white public persona. Sadly, today’s Congress and its leadership do not command the same credibility.
However, the interesting take out from this crossfire is how easily labels of corruption can be put on politicians and no one bats an eyelid. The sad truth is people find it difficult to believe that anyone can be a politician and yet not be corrupt. This is not cynicism. It is based on the understanding of ground reality. Even the common man realises it costs a fortune to fight elections.
Voters have a problem when the enrichment appears disproportionate and seen to benefit a handful. That was the perception on Bofors and, more recently, on 2G, Coal Scam, etc. Now the same formula is being used for discrediting Narendra Modi on Rafale.
This is doubly unfortunate. First, because corruption in public life in indeed a fact. Second, for all our pride in being the largest democracy in the world, we look like yet another third world country, where parties come and go out of power by levelling charges of corruption against one another. The more it changes, the more it remains the same or gets worse.
Congress and other Opposition party leaders during a protest against the Modi government over Rafale deal, at Parliament House. (Credit: PTI photo)
The point is not about the substance and veracity of the accusations. The downside of fighting elections on the plank of corruption charges devoid of ideology and real agenda is that it can descend to a zero-sum game.
The public develops fatigue hearing new remixes of old records. After a while they become immune to this allegations and accept it as the new normal. That emboldens politicians further. The scale of corruption balloons. As stakes increase, so does the need for larger war chests. It becomes a vicious cycle.
From there on the country easily slip on a banana peel to go the way of our South Asian neighbours. To be one up — a new wave of vendetta politics gets triggered. Foreign powers start to fish in troubled waters.
At the moment the opposition’s single point agenda is to defeat Narendra Modi and drive BJP out of power. For that they are willing to bury principles, ideology and past rivalries.
Leading the charge as a self-anointed messiah, Rahul Gandhi is campaigning in an “as-if-there-is-no-tomorrow” mode. He has mounted a two-pronged attack. The first is targeted at Narendra Modi personally, trying to destroy his credentials for honesty. The second is aimed at RSS as an institution — painting it in the lurid light of communalism and anti-national antecedents.
A 2009 file picture of Narendra Modi with RSS leaders during an event in Ahmedabad. (Credit: YouTube)
Under Rahul Gandhi, the Congress may have diluted the previous line of “Hindu terror”. But, in adopting a “soft Hindutva” approach, temple runs and promise of gaushalas, he is trying to add a new layer of “Good Hindu Vs Bad Hindu” to the narrative.
This may be working as per his election strategists in pushing the BJP to the wall. The current mood of the commentariat is upbeat about the prospects of Congress and the mahagathbandhan pulling it off. There is a great deal of optimism in the anti-Modi camps about the likely outcome of the state elections. They could well be right.
But, victory will not be an unmixed blessing. It will come with conditions attached.
Parallels are cited about how the entire opposition got together to oust Indira Gandhi. But, there is a fundamental difference. 1977 was about defeating an individual and the threat to democracy posed by the Emergency.
Rahul Gandhi offering prayers at Somnath temple ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections last year. (Photo: PTI photo)
Now, no matter how Modi is demonised and the RSS portrayed as a fascist force — it will be seen as a battle against Hindu majoritarianism. This sentiment will get further solidified if the BJP is cornered by a disparate but united Opposition.
Narendra Modi if put on the backfoot on Rafale and other charges might choose to move away from making it a personal 1:1 fight between him and Rahul Gandhi or even the BJP Vs the dynastic Congress. In case of a setback in the Assembly elections, a broader front will open up. It would almost certainly turn into a war between the Modi and RSS Vs Rahul and the rest.
Irrespective of who wins the finals of 2019, it will create chasms that might be difficult to bridge. That is a scary prospect. Looking at a cracked mirror will not be a pretty sight.
Therefore, one can only wish real issues will prevail over rhetoric and propaganda. For that, the intelligentsia and media can play a big role by rising above partisanship and prejudices.