Politics of obsession

September 30, 2015

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi (right) and her son, party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi at a farmers’ rally in India’s capital New Delhi on September 20 (AP)

Ever since it came to power, the BJP has relentlessly attacked the Nehru-Gandhi family members and is doing all it can to try and stamp them out of history.

Is this a plain threat perception? Or is this a diversionary tactic?

There is a medical term called ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’ or OCD. It is a mental disorder that makes people repeatedly indulge in the same action or repeatedly have similar thoughts or feel the need to repeatedly perform the same tasks. If you go by the favourite search engine, it also says something else. That such activity affects a person’s daily life negatively. It leads to anxiety disorder and could also lead to the increased risk of suicide.

The description of this medical condition is so apt to what is being indulged in by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that it could well give any ardent fan goose bumps. We shall come to the reason for such a response of the body system a little later. But, first let’s look at the current obsession that has existed since the party came to power 16 months ago. The fact that the Congress party has been reduced the worst-ever defeat in electoral history does not appear to have made any difference to the BJP. The fact that it is the only ruling party to gain a majority on its own in parliament after three decades also does not seem to have made a difference.

The ruling party has been repeatedly indulging in actions and verbal attacks against the Nehru-Gandhi family (for the uninitiated it means the Congress leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi) with a consistency that is truly amazing. There has really been no respite from the frontal attack that took place during the election campaign. It took quite some time for the Congress leadership also to react to the onslaught because it did not know where to hide after the people almost shunned them from power. It was not until the controversial land acquisition legislation came in that Rahul Gandhi returned from his unusually long sabbatical from public life to develop the courage to remain in politics and lash out at the government.

The verbal exchange of fire in such circumstances is not unusual in a democracy. Whenever the occasion arises, political rivals do spar but there is always a respite after every issue dies a natural death or is buried one way or the other. But, in the case of the present dispensation, there appears to be no respite. Indeed, it has gone with a vengeance against the Gandhi-Nehru family. First, it consciously went after demolishing, Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the biggest icons of the freedom movement after Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Nehru, as the country’s first prime minister, laid the foundation for a modern India. The Children’s Day, birthday of Nehru, was appropriated last year with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, himself, behaving like Nehru by talking to the children from across the country.

From there to the recent decision to stop issuing of postal stamps of Nehru, his daughter, Indira Gandhi and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, all of whom were prime ministers, the effort to devalue their contribution to the nation was part of a clear political strategy. The effort was to promote their own icons even if it was somebody like Congress leader, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who was in many ways as powerful as Nehru in the freedom movement as well as when the first government was formed post-independence. It is not that the Congress had done nothing to promote the Nehru-Gandhi family. Practically every single government programme was named after either Nehru or Indira or Rajiv. And, it was effectively used by the BJP to communicate to the younger generation that it was time to fight against the perpetuation of dynastic rule. 

Interestingly, the attacks have not come in only from the minions or the motor mouths alone. These have come from even the most powerful man in the country. It has not mattered to Modi whether it is the home turf or foreign shores. He has remained consistent in his attack even on foreign soil, including his current public meetings in the US. This is a norm that has never been practiced by his predecessors, including the BJP’s very own Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who maintained the decorum of not indulging in local politics on foreign soil. Indeed, during Vajpayee’s regime the focus was not on devaluing icons of the freedom struggle or, for that matter, even attacking the Nehru-Gandhi family.

That was a strategy which was learnt the hard way when the first non-Congress government came to rule India in 1977. This was after Indira Gandhi had revoked the Emergency and Indians got back civil liberties to vote her out of power. The focus of the conglomeration of various opposition parties called the Janata Party was so much on attacking Indira Gandhi that it evoked a sympathy wave for her across the country. The Janata Party leaders were so involved in fighting internal contradictions that they did not realise they had themselves sowed the seeds for her return to power on the of basis stability and, of course, sympathy.
A similar situation appears set to being created by the current leaders of the ruling party who are constantly asking why Rahul Gandhi, the ‘spoilt child of Indian politics’, is running away from the Bihar assembly electoral battle and instead attending a conference in Aspen, US. This is despite knowing that his presence or absence makes little difference for his Congress party in the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, that he lacks the body language to give confidence to the voter, lacks the capacity to sustain a long battle on any issue and, certainly, lacks the political acumen of his grandmother.

There could be only two conclusions that can be drawn from such a persistent approach of the BJP leadership. That Rahul Gandhi and his mother, Sonia, are the biggest threats to their future. And, conversely, the ruling party does not have much to offer in terms of development of the country. Otherwise, it is beyond comprehension as to why the ruling party should be so scared of the Nehru-Gandhi family that it wants to commit suicide as the prognosis is for OCD. 

Some action needed
Prime Minister Modi has, yet again, wowed not just non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the US but also the captains of technology companies. It should be given to him that there has been no other who has been able to make such an impression on the techie leaders as him. One of the best points that he has made is that the concept of brain drain does not exist anymore because of the contribution that Indians have made abroad particularly while playing the (computer) ‘keyboard’, as he put it. He has got biggies like Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm to commit themselves to provide connectivity at 500 railway stations, 500,000 villages and a huge start-up fund, respectively.

His whole-hearted promotion of Digital India may have brought in accolades all across but the fact remains that none of these players as well as those waiting and watching in the wings will move forward to make investments until the situation changes at the ground level. It is true that some have decided to wait patiently because the other economies are in a bad state. All that it requires is for the government to change its tactics in dealing with the opposition parties so that important economic legislation can be passed, governance improves and the much anticipated investment flows in. Only when that happens will the flamboyance in speech be justified.

Reports about the pollution scam rocking Volkswagen may have shocked the world. Many Indians, too, are taken aback that one of the most trusted names in automobiles should get its name sullied in such a manner. More so when it concerns pollution and everyone believes the Germans are very strict about keeping the air clean. But, some Indians do not seem greatly perturbed by it because pollution to them is not such a big issue.

To this section, it is a question of getting used to it. After all, there is so much of pollution in the country that some violations here and there by automobile companies should not really matter. That’s the approach of some. Perhaps, this is what prompted a joke on social media which, effectively, meant that there was no breach of contract on the part of Volkswagen. They delivered what they promised. It was we who did not understand them properly. It goes, somewhat, on the following lines.

The tagline of the illustrious automaker says: Das Auto. In Hindi, das means ten. And, the popular usage for the three wheeler autorichshaw, which ferries people around, is auto. In other words, pollution equivalent of ten autorickshaws would be produced by their cars.

So, what’s the crime? Very unlikely any of the company officials who have gone through hell in the last week, globally, would be in a position to appreciate this joke. Nevertheless.