It is difficult to predict what relief Rahul Gandhi can expect from the higher judiciary in the face of the indecently hasty decision to terminate his membership of the Lok Sabha. Technically the speaker of the Lok Sabha is responsible for this unworthy decision, but it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministerial colleagues who would have to pay the political price for expelling the Congress leader from parliament.
On their part, Rahul Gandhi and his advisers should welcome this patently unfair and vindictive decision. Indeed, this is the second big favour the Modi regime has done to the Gandhis. The first one was the November 2019 decision to take away the family’s SPG cover; that move suddenly liberated Rahul Gandhi physically and psychologically from the barrier that heavily armed commandos had come to symbolise between him and the Congress cadres.
A ‘liberated’ Rahul Gandhi operationalised that ‘freedom’ by walking the length and breadth of the country during the six month-long Bharat Jodo Yatra. Thanks to the cussed thanedars in Modi’s corner, Rahul Gandhi turned the yatra into a statement of defiance, ended up standing de-‘Pappu’fied and spoke with a new found assurance and confidence.
The clever tacticians, who masquerade as Chankayas, took note of the new Rahul Gandhi. His all-out attack on the ruling establishment’s Gautam Adani connection was potentially very damaging to the prime minister’s carefully crafted public image. This is because the connection is as intimate, if not more, than what was said about the infamous Ottavio Quattrochi’s ties to the Rajiv Gandhi household. The ruling clique knows that too many skeletons would come tumbling out in any honest inquiry, as demanded by newly minted Rahul Gandhi. That could not be permitted.
Perhaps never before have the treasury benches so determinedly disrupted both the houses of parliament as did the BJP members and ministers demanding an apology from Rahul Gandhi for his remarks in a distant university. So much so that the budget got passed without a discussion. The treasury benches’ parliamentary managers can have the dubious satisfaction of having prevented a discussion on the Adani connection, but it is difficult to see what political or electoral advantage the BJP has gained for itself by getting so closely identified with a businessman whose business practices have come under so much unfavorable global scrutiny. If anything, the prime minister has not redeemed himself in the eyes of even his own admirers.
Perhaps the entire top leadership of the BJP is infected with the virus of the prime minister’s exaggerated sense of invincibility; perhaps no one dare to remind Modi that the greatest mistakes political leaders make is when they start believing in their own myths. For example, Modi’s fellow-demagogue, Donald Trump, had once boasted: “ I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Demagogues thrive and perish with an overdose of vanity.
It is in this state of exalted self-importance that the ruling cabal has done Rahul Gandhi a second favour by deciding to expel him from the Lok Sabha. Perhaps the clever Chankayas thought that by knocking him out of the parliamentary arena they have ensured a Congress meltdown. On the contrary, the expulsion has cemented the Gandhi family’s centrality to the Congress and by extension to Indian politics.
Even if Rahul Gandhi has to go to jail and is disqualified for contesting parliamentary elections for eight years, age will still be on his side. Adversity of an extreme kind will shape him, mentally and spiritually. Nor will he lose his voice. Indeed, as a patent victim of a wilfully vindictive regime, Rahul Gandhi can now speak in a different tone. He could refashion himself in the manner of Jayaprakash Narayan, a voice of political reasonableness and wholesomeness.
The ruling party is calculating that with Rahul Gandhi out of contention from the prime ministerial sweepstakes the Opposition’s ranks would remain thoroughly disunited, making 2024 a cake-walk for Modi. But this is not how politics will play out. The ruling coterie has only made the prime minister look like a petty man, who will not allow himself to be slowed down by considerations of fair play.
Indeed, rather than projecting the prime minister as a man head and shoulders above his political rivals, the expulsion suggests a man who has come to fear the Gandhi scion as a worthy adversary whose challenge must be put down by any means. For all his feigned contempt and disdain for Rahul Gandhi, Modi has revealed himself to be fearful of the family and its legacy, however besmirched he says that legacy is. On his part, Rahul Gandhi can now recast himself in the role of an honest facilitator in re-aligning the disparate Opposition parties.
The prime minister and his arrogant colleagues are blinded by the absolute power that is theirs to wield for now and have convinced themselves that they alone have the right to determine the fate of the republic. This is a familiar failing in history. No dictatorship or authoritarian regime lasts forever. It falls prey to its own “exercises in unwisdom,” to use historian Barbara Tuchman’s evocative phrase.
The Rahul Gandhi expulsion ought to be a wake-up call for all non-BJP voices and forces in the polity. Only if they come together can they prevent the prime minister and his clique from hurtling down the slippery path to extreme waywardness. The higher judiciary, civil society and all other democratic institutions must do their bit to reaffirm the supremacy of the constitution over the claims of the supremacy of a supreme leader.