Ramachandra Guha for me is more than a gifted historian and commentator. He is a good friend. Which makes it even more important that I comment on the article at ndtv.com where he lists “five reasons” why, in a future nationwide election, Rahul Gandhi should not be the Congress’s alternative to Narendra Modi.
I am responding not because I am devoted to the prospect that seems to depress Guha – the projection of Rahul Gandhi as an electoral alternative to Modi. The year 2024 is too far, and by then the Congress, the opposition and the country may have several options to choose from. My problems with Guha’s article are different.
Before spelling them out, let me summarize Guha’s “five reasons”. Firstly, says Guha, Rahul comes up with poor slogans. Next, Rahul’s speaking skills are weak, especially in Hindi. Thirdly, Rahul has no experience of managing a government department or a private company. Fourthly, he lacks stamina and tenacity. Finally, Rahul is a dynast at a time when, in Guha’s assessment, the public is more willing to blame an heir for the failures, real or perceived, of forebears than to look up to someone because of his or her ancestry.
My first problem is with the article’s suggestion that “the battle against Hindutva”, to use one of Guha’s phrases, is primarily an electoral affair. Much before we face another national election, we have to recognize what is taking place before our eyes right now: the systematic hacking of pillars that have kept our democratic house from falling to the ground.
We see the Supreme Court deferring critical petitions that involve the lives and rights of millions. Enforcement officers making well-timed raids on opposition politicians and their relatives. A parliament unable or unwilling to debate pressing issues. Policemen chasing the kin but not the killers of a murdered person.
A Prime Minister monopolizing state-owned media and government-paid hoardings across the country but refusing to face a probing reporter. Private but pervasive TV channels filling the country’s air with toxic ill-will towards particular communities. Universities pressurized to compromise on scholarly independence. Students being coerced, often with police batons, to fall in line. Etcetera, etcetera.
While well aware of this reality, Ram Guha gives undue centrality to the electoral challenge. He also seems to imply that a future electoral battle will be a fair one. Will it?
Where will opposition parties find the money? Will even remotely fair debates be allowed on TV channels? How will opposition candidates, and their relatives and supporters, cope with raids by officers of the state? With criminal charges of inciting disaffection and violence, or of sedition? With physical threats?
It’s a tribute to the Election Commission of India (and to the thousands of government employees placed under its control for the weeks of voting) that most Indian elections so far seem to have reflected popular opinion. Can we be certain that this will be so in the future too?
Believing that it will be, elections will be fought in 2024. But guts will then be more important than ever before, and far more important than oratorical skills. There appears to be sufficient evidence that Rahul Gandhi is not deficient in this indispensable requirement.
A seasoned scholar of political and historical personalities, Guha should acknowledge this quality in his analysis of Rahul Gandhi. For the sake of fairness, Guha should also, I think, admit that suit-boot-ki-sarkar was a pretty effective slogan that Rahul employed. And while chowkidar chor hai did not prove a winning slogan, and was also disapproved by many of his supporters, Rahul has played a necessary role in puncturing (for a good number of Indians) the manufactured image of a larger-than-human Modi.
Taking a politician down may be an unavoidable and even a required task in a democracy, but I would like to suggest that in today’s India, all of us who think of ourselves as critical commentators may need to re-examine our role.
With democracy, dissent, secularism and pluralism under sustained attack from forces with immense resources, lovers of these values will help their purpose by building up every individual who puts up a genuine fight to defend the values. Rahul Gandhi is certainly not the only one in the Congress or in the opposition as a whole who is putting up a real fight.
But he definitely seems to be fighting. I love him for that. And he has been fighting month after month, and year after year. I admire him for that.
Anyone working for liberty, equality and fraternity in India is my ally today. She or he or they may be in the Congress, in the Communist Party, the NCP, the TMC, the DMK, whatever. In the Shiv Sena, the Muslim League. Or in the BJP or the JDU. It doesn’t matter. They may be rich or poor, Dalit or Brahmin or Rajput or OBC or whatever. Doesn’t matter. Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, atheist, whatever. Doesn’t matter.
Anonymous, unknown, or a dynast. Doesn’t matter. I will root for any and every person working for more liberty, equality and fraternity in India. And I will quietly pray for mutual goodwill among all these persons.
When the time comes, popular pressure will compel political unity, and the right person will be chosen to lead an electoral alliance against domination and coercion.
The Test matches are some distance away, but important contests are taking place every day. It’s a tough pitch to play in today, the light is poor, there’s wind and rain, and we don’t know how impartial the umpires are. But Rahul Gandhi is playing with pluck. Bravo!