Whither democracy after Rahul Gandhi’s unseating?

Rahul Gandhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi MP from Wayanad lost his membership of Parliament after the verdict of a court in Surat.  The Lok Sabha Secretariat hurriedly issued a notification declaring that the Rahul Gandhi is no longer a Member of Parliament. Such swift action is rare, but not surprising. It’s hard to guess what the higher courts will dispense as justice. We have heard more abusive insults hurled by politicians at each other than what Rahul said about the ‘Modis’. The BJP has called the Gandhi family by expressions unworthy of being used in respectable fora. But, they claim, out of ignorance, that Gandhi’s statement was an insult to the OBCs. False! The three Modi’s under question are not close to being either disadvantaged or OBCs.

Insulting the opponent is the uncouth nature and very method of politics itself – wherever in the world. But this does not quite apply to what Rahul Gandhi said. Gandhi’s statement, uttered in jest, might be embarrassing to those who carry similar names and geographical origins. What Gandhi opined was humor applied to political facts. There was logic in his query. Wikipedia’s list of Fugitive Economic Offenders currently residing abroad is one which raises many eyebrows.  By the end of 2021, Parliament learned that 33 financial fugitives from India are still hiding abroad. The government claims that action has been taken as per law and requests for extradition issued to the countries where these men are hiding. Our, otherwise aggressive media, makes very little mention of these actions. Nor does it function as a watchdog on such corruption. There is the other question too. The nation was told in the run-up to the 2014 elections, that the Modi government would bring back all money held in tax havens. Each citizen would receive a gain of 15 lakhs. That was later termed as a ‘jumla’ – something common sense told everyone when it was first declared. In much the same way, we now have 33 unofficial NRI’s doing business illegally. Is this claim by the government like the black money ‘jumla’? Colonial UK is the official sponsor. By its lack of aggressive intent, the government is complicit.

India has ‘requested’ the extradition of these offenders. Interpol ‘Red Comer notices’ have been issued to Interpol. Gandhi has raised valid questions and the government’s response should ideally be to vigorously go after the conmen who have stolen public money and are persisting with their uninhibited luxurious lives overseas. The wealth they still roll in should be snatched away and returned to the coffers for welfare schemes.  The street thinks India has the clout to bring them back and put them away for their heinous crimes, but political will is lacking. Instead the government has gone after the man who asked the question. In an era of ‘revenge-politics’, the average citizen and even powerful politicians are being tacitly told: ‘Watch your words. You risk being viciously punished’. True. If Rahul Gandhi can be punished, who are we- the common folk to speak?

The BJP which spent a good part of its time ruling the country targeting Gandhi as “Pappu” has realized that this designation is invalid by miles. Gandhi is no ‘novice’, nor is he politically ‘naïve’. He has used these years as MP to apply the humility needed to be schooled in ‘Study-centres of Politics’ overseas. This is qualitatively far different from the type of trainings that MLAs are put through at humongous costs (crores in fact) within the country. If only the latter had any serious content, one would have witnessed tangible and qualitative differences in Assembly debates and in serious enhancements of ‘socio-economic-political’ facts-on-the-ground. In the case of Goa, such trainings are fairly frequent. Concrete results are hopelessly invisible.

Legal experts opine that Gandhi can now challenge this decision in the court. Legal luminaries argue that only the President can disqualify MPs in consultation with the Election Commission. There will now be a challenge in the High Court and, should that fail, the doors of the Supreme Court will be knocked at. Kapil Sibal says, “If it (court) only suspends the sentence, it will not be enough. There should be a stay on suspension or conviction. Gandhi can continue as a Member of Parliament only if there is a stay on the conviction.” If the High Court does not cancel the decision, then Rahul Gandhi will not be allowed to contest elections for the next 8 years. That raises a hornets’ nest. It takes us to the crux of the real questions that surround this verdict and the case itself.

The manner in which this case has been constructed reveals two bare facts. First, Gandhi is not “Pappu” by any stretch of imagination. With his Bharath Jodo Yatra, he has claimed his distinct political space and identity. He has demonstrated that he can mobilize the masses in a way far different from others and with conviviality. He is an orator in his own mode. Those who believe oratory consists in talking loudly or put-on gesticulations with voice modulations that are meant to be smart and eye-catching have got it wrong. After nine years, people are looking for tangibles not smart rhetoric or political aerobatics.

Second, the BJP wants Rahul Gandhi swept away politically, and silenced in the democratic arena.  The BJP has underperformed and voter fatigue is rapidly deepening. After 2014 the public saw poorly conceived schemes – demonetization, GST and failed economics. Post-2019 the sheen began to further vanish. CAA/NRC protests, farmers struggle, and Covid exposed the frailties of a government unable to cope with serious political challenges. It was always seen in its unpreparedness to cope with the Covid and other disasters.  The BJP now fears Gandhi’s presence in the fast-emerging national alliance of all parties regardless of their ideological differences. This is the BJP’s lone reason to unseat Gandhi.

Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator

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