Rahul Gandhi Must Not Go Unanswered if Indian Democracy Is to Be Credible

The Modi government has clearly decided to latch on with loud and repeated insistence to their demand that Rahul Gandhi apologise for 'defaming India' on foreign soil as a tactic to deflect any focus on the Adani matter.

Let it be conceded that Rahul Gandhi does not always have the right word in the right place.

He is no consummate demagogue.

Thank god for that.

Democracies that last are not built on thunderingly disingenuous demagoguery but on a steady habit of reason and interrogation.

It is of course the case that leaderships that seek to inculcate the questioning habit of mind among the populace have a far harder task at hand than those that silence the questioning and do the rousing.

But it is best to know how to make a distinction between a democratic mass and a mob that follows a cult.

Returning to Rahul Gandhi: What he does have is a clear-eyed insight into the socio-political ideology of the right-wing led by the RSS, and an implacable resolve to defeat its permanent ascendance to state power.

Nehru had once presciently said that the greatest danger to Indian democracy comes from communalism, rather than from communism. 

Rahul Gandhi seems to have internalised the weight of that formulation and it is rather remarkable that despite this clarity he has come to have such palpable hold on the collective voice of a party that has spent more than a decade in wishy-washy dithering and weak-kneed tumbles in the face of Hindutva. With his approach, he has infused the Congress worker at large with a new strength of conviction in that body of principles which distinguished the Indian National Congress as an inclusive, emancipatory mass movement.

If today, after an interregnum lasting a decade, the public articulation of the most ordinary of Congress workers seems unburdened by tactical convolutions, that owes in great measure to Rahul Gandhi’s unwavering critique of two macro planks of the Modi-led Right-wing..

The two planks comprise the divisive-sectarian history and objectives of the RSS/BJP combine, and the cosiness of that revanchist formation with crony-corporates.

Do recall that the Third Reich had the support of not just German corporates like Krupp Thyssen but (until the war broke out) a host of big American companies too. 

Rahul Gandhi clearly understands the meaning of that telling conjunction in world history.

Like it or not, it is rather a compliment to his doggedness in the matter that not just the Congress party but the bulk of the political opposition this day have come round to making Rahul’s two-planked critique the focus of attack on the Modi government.

Parliamentary democracy

The BJP has every right to contest Rahul Gandhi’s recent statements on English soil on the failings of Indian democracy but surely shutting him off through the mainforce of lung-power or a parliamentary suspension is undemocratic. It would in effect only validate the heart of his criticism of the Modi regime.

What, after all, is Rahul Gandhi saying?

That as an MP accountable to “we the people” he has the democratic obligation to ask  the prime minister to enlighten parliament on  some questions that are crucial to the probity of the realm: how often has the latter travelled abroad with the tycoon, Adani, and vice versa, and how often have these conjoint travels resulted in windfalls for the double-quick billionaire? Have all these windfalls  been consonant with lawful and desirable business practices?  

After all, such questions were asked of the late Rajiv Gandhi in relation to the alleged Bofors fiasco (a matter of a mere 60 crores in commission money to a middleman, none of which was proved despite umpteen enquiries).

And such questions were also thrown at the door of the former prime minister, Manmohan Singh in relation to the touted loss to the exchequer in the “2G scam”, although the losses were held to be “notional” even by the Supreme court, and no convictions ensued.

Nor is the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to enquire into the substance of the questions asked by Rahul Gandhi an unprecedented one; such a demand has been raised several times before and granted as well.

Dishonourable deflection

The Modi government has clearly decided to latch on with loud and repeated insistence to their demand that Rahul Gandhi apologise for “defaming India” on foreign soil as a tactic to deflect any focus on the Adani matter.

Any objective appraisal of what Rahul Gandhi said to his audiences in England will show that far from defaming his country he was expressing his anguish about how to return India to a credible democracy  again.

Nothing in the constitution and the laws pertaining to citizenship forbids any Indian from criticising the doings of his or her government at home to listeners abroad.

After all, as has now been underscored by many political commentators, Modi has on more than one occasion rubbished not just one or two governments previous to his onset in 2014, but indeed, all of our post-independence governments over the six or so decades before he took over as prime minister.

This writer has in a previous column suggested how this might constitute an insult to some three generations of Indians at large, and why those generations felt proud to be Indians during the decades reviled by Modi.

Rahul Gandhi’s riposte to the demand for his apology has been once again consonant with the genius of democracy.

He has argued that since some four ministers of the cabinet have lambasted him in parliament over his supposedly anti-India statements in England, he must exercise his right of reply on the floor of the house.

As it turns out, thus far, in denying him that right, those that conduct parliament have only proved his critique to have been a just one: namely, any stratagem will be found to prevent a criticism of Modi even in parliament.

And, if any such criticism is made, these will be expunged from the record.

Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.