By Sushil Kutty
So it is India is democratic versus India is undemocratic. Are we stuck with the binary? Both Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are fighting each other overseas in preparation for the ‘Big Fight 2024’ at home. Rahul Gandhi’s observation that “NRIs” got India her freedom from the British and his criticism of Modi’s “rearview mirror” fixation has set the ball rolling in earnest. What Prime Minister Narendra Modi will say in his speech to the United States House cannot be as forthcoming for obvious reasons, but it will be his only opportunity to answer to Rahul Gandhi’s account of nine years of Modi rule.
Rahul Gandhi’s definition of ‘NRI freedom-fighter’ was of an Indian who gets an overseas education in Oxford or Cambridge, preferably in Law, and then returning to India to join the freedom movement – most likely aligning with the stream led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom were “NRI” in Rahul’s book on the Freedom Struggle. In fact, if the Prince of the Podium of the Congress is to be believed, India’s freedom struggle started from South Africa.
For that Rahul Gandhi should be placed across the knee and disciplined. India’s freedom struggle, according to one account, dates back to 1857 with Mangal Pandey biting the greased bullet and Maharani Lakshmibhai joining Bahadurshah Zafar in the joint push to evict the English from Hindustan. None of the stars of the ‘First War of Independence’ was an NRI as defined by Rahul Gandhi, who should at least now step out of the rearview of the Nehru-Gandhi car to find relevance and inspiration.
Rahul Gandhi’s “rearview mirror” applies equally to his remark “all our freedom fighters were NRI”. Rahul Gandhi might think he had made a brilliant point, witty and full of meaning in a setting that couldn’t be more NRI. Ha! Even if all of India’s freedom fighters were “NRI”, which they weren’t by any stretch of Rahul’s imagination, by harking back to the freedom struggle, the former Congress President was doing that which he was accusing Modi of – always looking into the rearview mirror. Rahul Gandhi searching for relevance in the freedom struggle appeared to be forever stuck in the rearview mirror.
Somebody as seemingly unemployed for most part of the year as Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar heard Rahul’s faux pas to pick it up for a demonstration on Rahul Gandhi’s proclivity to “attack India” from foreign podiums. Vee-Pee Dhankar snapped at Rahul’s rearview mirror remark, saying all Indians should keep an eye on the rearview mirror if only to keep track of those bent on “tainting, tarnishing and destroying India’s institutions.”
And, for the cherry on the top, Vice President Dhankar said that by 2047, India will be the world’s “No.1 Country”, adding that “some of us do not take pride…misguided souls confused about the potential and real-time accomplishments of this country”; people like Rahul Gandhi. And that “some people in and outside the country were trying to calibrate us. We cannot allow others to calibrate us. Their calibration is not objective…. The rise of India is indigestible in some quarters because this country believes in peace and stability, harmony of the world.”
What does that say or prove? It says Rahul Gandhi has become a thorn in the BJP’s side; his constant barbs are keeping Prime Minister Narendra Modi on pins and needles. Not just PM Modi but the entire BJP-led NDA government. Notice how External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who has been holding face-to-face meetings with Indian diaspora, reacted to Rahul Gandhi’s rearview and other views. Jaishankar, playing the gentleman to the hilt, purred that he will reply to the Congress leader’s barbs when he – S Jaishankar – is back home in India! Now, is that a threat or a promise?
The fact of the matter is, Rahul Gandhi has made his foreign trips, jaunts to show the rearview mirror to the Modi government from overseas; starting with London and now in the United States. With the Bharat Jodo Yatra as a launch pad, Rahul Gandhi upset the BJP’s comfort, focusing the world’s attention on India’s record on a variety of “freedoms” including Press.
On whether the strategy is working or not, one has to only factor in the Karnataka election victory which came in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s highly visible and volatile London tour earlier this year, which had the entire national electronic media in lynching mood for days on end if not weeks. Rahul Gandhi’s foreign talk tours have been acting as a unifying force, with both the “for and against” ecosystems drawing power from them. The Vice President, for example, who advised government officers he was addressing, not to “carry baggage of history. It will impede your progress”.
Which was what Rahul Gandhi accused the Narendra Modi administration of perpetrating with its “rearview mirror” fixation – the “baggage of history”. If Dhankar warned of “impeding progress”, Rahul Gandhi mentioned “driving straight ahead into oncoming traffic”. If, according to Dhankar, “you look in the rear mirror only to avoid someone who is determined to create an accident”, according to Rahul Gandhi, the BJP and the RSS were “incapable” of looking at the future and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was driving the “Indian car” into “one accident after another” with his eyes fixed on the rearview mirror. (IPA Service)