This is no less than a monograph, clubbed here are three opinion pieces which were first published on Daily O through 2018-2019, counting over 4300 words. Bookmark it. Read on a Sunday, with hot coffee :)
Part 1: A David vs. Goliath Fight Begins
May 2018, Rahul Gandhi as a PM, can we even imagine it? “Prime Minster Rahul Gandhi”, the combination of those words itself sounds odd. Like he is Rahul, arre apna Pappu yaar.
As I scrolled through the #IfRahulBecomesPM hashtag trending on Twitter at number one or two for about three hours this evening, with approximately 29,000 tweets per hour, I tried to imagine Rahul Gandhi as PM. Ranbir Kapoor from Wake Up Sid came to my mind. A rich privileged kid, pre-destined to follow father’s business, but he is neither interested in taking it up nor is he aware what he wants from life.
Think also of Karan Shergill from Lakshya, utterly clueless in life, until he finds his mission.
Think of Siddharth Marathe or Sidhu from Ghulam, a spoilt young man with a troubled past, no qualities to speak of, his brother toils all day, while he spends time and easy money in boxing and biking, until one day when he is shaken by his brother’s death, and end up challenging the very person who mentored him, the mighty Goliath like figure Raunak Singh.
Think of Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men, a Navy lawyer born with the burden of his father’s legacy which he can never live up to so he would rather not even try. Kaffee has never seen a real court room as he always broke a deal convinced his clients for plea bargaining, until that fateful day when he found that case in which he risked everything he has, career to freedom, to find the truth, his opponent? The second most powerful man in USA. And he won!
Kaffee won a lost battle against the mightiest opponent. Sidhu too won against an opponent who was stronger than him in all possible ways, physically, psychologically, power position wise. And the audience clapped.
Everybody loves a David vs Goliath fight, a coming of age story, a rising Phoenix. We always clap when the Sids of the world wake up, when Karans Shergills of the world find their mission. Will India clap for Rahul Gandhi?
Earlier in the day at the launch of ‘Samruddha Bharat Foundation’ Congress President Rahul Gandhi was asked by a member of the audience whether he will be the Prime Minister in 2019. “If Congress party gains majority…yes, why not?” was Mr. Gandhi’s short reply with a smile.
Media, online media and the right wing media (yes there are three of them now, also Lutyens media, godi media, but about those another day) is breaking since then with everybody running helter skelter to pen down an opinion piece including myself. Did Rahul Gandhi always have Prime ministerial ambitions? Did he always think that his ascend to the PM chair is inevitable one day or the other, sooner or later or is this Rahul Gandhi’s coming of age story?
Sreemoye Talukdar in Firstpost questioned the timing of Gandhi’s expression of interest. “Why did Congress’ heir apparent choose to ‘come out’ right now, when we are just a few days away from the polling day in Karnataka?” she asked. Her explanation is that with a Modi juggernaut in Karnataka election campaign, Congress party is getting nervous and therefore this is Gandhi’s attempt to position himself as Modi’s “equal”.
Far from it, I think Rahul Gandhi is doing everything he can to position himself not as Modi’s equal but as his anti-thesis and that is what might work in the 2019 election. Perhaps it is sheer destiny that Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi were born with the physical features that suits their politics.
If right wing ideology was to be a human, it would be an old male, hyper masculine, fairly tall with broad shoulders, even broader chest measuring 56” perhaps, loud voice, hate and anger oozing out of every pore, along with pride and arrogance. He would be an epitome of phallic power, a sexual force in public imagination, with women and men alike having crushes on him but he will not be sexually active. Because ‘self-control’ is a man’s greatest quality. He would live his life by rules and values, morals and standards, and he would be full of contempt for whoever didn’t have the same values. He would be a fundamentalist, autocratic and decisive but nobody would dare question him because he is blindly worshiped as the just and wise ruler.
On the other hand, if liberal ideology was to be a human, it would be a young gender neutral or gender fluid person. S/he would be young and cheerful, often coming across as too pre-occupied and reluctant to take up big responsibilities. Nobody would be afraid of such a person and the emotions received by her or him would range from love and affection to pity and hate. S/he would be generally liked for being soft spoken, effortless, caring, thoughtful, egalitarian and democratic and yet be criticized for being a failure. But criticism won’t bother her, s/he would take a chill pill every now and then, because there are less things in life to be angry about, less things to take offense from, less things to be afraid of, and more things to write poetry about. Amidst the art though there would be moments when s/he would feel pain and anguish about the way world works, and then a revolution would come.
Rahul Gandhi seems to have sensed the revolution in the air, as have been sensed by several citizen collectives in the last four years of growing intolerance, hate and violence in the country. A million Mutiny is happening from “Not In My Name” to “India Inclusive Citizen Conclave”, from Supreme Court Judges to farmers to Dalits, students, journalists everybody is protesting – there is unprecedented chaos and confusion in the country, and everybody is waking up to the fear that fascism is approaching, democracy needs to fight back.
To give platform to people’s rising anxiety the Congress President launched “Jan Aakrosh Rally” and “Save the Constitution” campaign, both being attempts to protect the idea of India, to protect the weaker sections, Dalits, women and minorities. While during Gujarat election campaign he was accused of turning towards soft Hindutva, his acceptance speech after taking over as party President set the record straight, socialism and secularism remains Congress’s core values. He carefully picked his words, “all religion, ethnicity, gender” against the generalized “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”. As the Kathua and Unnao rape incidences shocked the entire nation, Rahul Gandhi not only spoke up on both the issue but also at one impulsive moment he took to the street. He is walking barefoot in the Karnataka and Gujrat villages, sipping tea from local stalls, riding bicycle to protest fuel rise.
Rahul Gandhi has reinvented himself to suit the narrative of ‘the coming of age of the reluctant politician to become the revolutionary who rose up to the occasion’. From his body language to voice modulation to pronunciation; to the calm and comfort with which he has been attacking Modi in rallies after rallies – everything tells that Rahul Gandhi has shed his family legacy and privilege, he fell down on the ground, was mocked and scoffed and the silly Pappu is now suddenly challenging the grand old patriarch of Indian politics who seem to be on a high horse.
The poor chaiwala now wears monogrammed suits, Movado watches and Bvlgari glasses, carries a Monte Blanc pen, travels in private jet, eats mushroom allegedly worth Rs.80,000 per piece and only cares about his own Mann Ki Baat, nobody else’s. While Rahul Gandhi, the so called prince cannot even dress properly, his white Kurta sleeves are always falling and he seems to be rolling them up and down during his speeches besides adjusting his microphones.
The tables have turned. And this film has begun to look exciting. Will David win this battle against Goliath.
Part 2: Who David and Goliath were before this battle?
Feb 2019, few months from election. Remember the Mark Twain story where a Prince and a Pauper exchanged their places to get a feel of the life the other person lives. It was fun in the beginning but complications ensued because with a new life, comes new responsibility. Though not quite the same but in Indian politics we have a Naamdar and a Kaamdar who seem to have exchanged their places. How are they performing in their new lives? A bit of leadership test to see who among them could truly qualify to lead world’s greatest democracy for the next five years.
The so called Kaamdar who now behaves more like an Emperor
As the 2019 general elections approaches various opinion polls are being released, many of which are predicting a downfall in Bhartiya Janta Party’s prospects. Number of seats BJP is likely to win has fallen drastically, with some opinion columns stating “BJP has lost all hope of returning to power without allies”, and others saying “chances of them coming to power is 50-50”. But no matter how unfavourable the polls are for BJP, most media pundits believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still India’s tallest leader. Tavleen Singh on her latest column did a scathing criticism of Modi’s five years but ended it with, “As someone who has criticised him in this column for his mistakes, let me admit that when I compare him with those who seek to unseat him, he looks good…They make Modi look like a real leader.”
One wonders when they say Modi is a “tall leader” do they refer to his height? Because otherwise how is he a tall leader? I mean how is he a leader? He maybe a ruler, an icon, but a leader? We have to give some thoughts to this.
Let us begin to understand who is a leader? Quite literally a leader is one who leads. One who leads a group of people or community, to achieve a certain goal. Someone who leads people’s movement, initiates campaign, forms associations, rallies for their cause from the forefront. One who immediately rushes to a given place in order to be with people in their time of crisis. One who inspires her group members to achieve greater heights. Above all, a leader is one who dares to walk alone when everybody around feel weak, vulnerable and hopeless. Rabindranath Tagore’s immortal words would forever remain the ultimate mark of a true leader, “Jodi tor daak shune keu na ashe, tabe ekla chalo re (If nobody answers your clarion call, you walk alone)”. When a brave person starts walking alone against all odds taking risks and doesn’t stop until people are inspired to lay their trust in her, and follow her, it is then that a leader is born.
When has Narendra Modi done any of these? What has he led? Which people’s movement or campaign was he a part of?
Very little is known about Mr Modi’s political life before he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. While he was not born in an illustrious family he was nurtured by a powerful and influential organization RSS, and later joined BJP and rose through the ranks. As an RSS Karyakarta his activities were part of the routine. It is claimed that during the emergency he carried out tasks like printing anti-government pamphlets, organizing protests, ferrying BJP leaders to safe houses etc but there is no documented evidence to any of these, and nothing is recorded anywhere in history. Most information about Modi’s past are urban folklore which are not substantiated by facts. Some are outrightly refuted, for example there is no evidence that he sold tea.
For all his stories about not being born with privileges it was Modi who was politically privileged enough to be mysteriously catapulted straight to the Chief Minister’s seat without a day of kaam (work). In October 2001 when Modi was sworn in as Gujarat’s CM, he had zero experience in governance, and had not even contested an election. The story behind Modi’s direct acquisition of the throne would put many a ‘game of thrones’ to shame.
In 2001 BJP’s performance in Gujarat was at its lowest. Then Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel was facing allegations of corruption and administrative failures. His health too was on the decline which became the perfect excuse for BJP to replace him. Modi was by then a significant member of the BJP, recognised and lauded for his successful election strategies. He was therefore seen as a viable option who could turn around BJP’s fortune in the forthcoming assembly elections in December 2002. But LK Advani was not very keen because Modi didn’t have any experience in governance. So he was first offered the role of a Deputy CM, but he refused to accept it. He wanted either the Chief Minister post or nothing at all. In a way, Modi stabbed Keshubhai and snatched the throne away from him. On October 7 2001 Modi was sworn in as the Chief Minister much to the displeasure of most of the party cadres. Around 30 MLAs extended their loyalty to Keshubhai as the CM and refused to accept Modi, but they were soon silenced (Source: Frontline). Keshubhai Patel was hurt and humiliated and he never recovered. In 2012, Patel said, “Narendra Modi a demon who is responsible for the misery of common people of Gujarat.”
Modi’s story is far from being that of a poor humble boy working his way up the ladder. It is not a story of a people’s leader who organized, mobilized or led the poor and downtrodden. It is a story of a highly ambitious individual in ruthless pursuit of power. The type of ruthlessness you might see in Aurangzeb’s story where he killed and imprisoned his own brothers and father. The similarities galore, Modi has no friends and family. People fear him, but how many love him? He abandoned his family to pursue his personal goals. Today his wife is estranged, brother is campaigning against him, and mother is merely an old and helpless prop. From CM to PM he has been living in luxury for decades but his mother lives in poverty, only to be visited by him from time to time with an army of photographers for image building.
Modi did not join politics for public service but for personal ambition. He was given the plum CM chair not for people’s welfare but to benefit the party’s electoral performance.
How Modi changed BJP’s performance in Gujarat is part of history. The horrific anti-Muslim Gujarat riots of March 2002, ensued within five months of Modi’s arrival as CM. While nothing could be proved before law, several fact finding reports, autobiographies, non-fiction books, and documentaries exists which reveal that the entire riot of 2002 was an orchestrated one, with Modi playing a significant role, directly or indirectly. Most recently, retired Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah, the vice chief of Army Staff who tackled the 2002 Gujarat riots revealed in his autobiographical work that had it not been for state government’s (Modi being the CM) delay in sending transport, supplies and other logistical support, at least 300 lives could have been saved by army.
The Gujarat riots shook the nation and world. The blood on Narendra Modi’s hand although invisible to law of the land, was seen by every member of national and international media and civil society. Modi was now known as the face of radical Hindutva, banned from traveling to USA for ten long years.
We are still searching for a chapter in Modi’s political life where he has either led or participated in any people’s movement. From 2001 to 2014, the twelve years that Modi remained the chief minister of Gujarat, he lived life like a king – rich, powerful, ruthless and far removed from the masses – wearing the best of clothes, accessories, keeping company of the rich and influential, the industrialists, film stars, sports stars, state leaders; waiving at his fans from a distance or at the most, taking selfies with them. Always surrounded by cameras but you would not find one photo of Modi hugging a poor person or eating a humble meal with a poor family.
So whom did Narendra Modi lead and to what? That remains a question, unless of course, Gujarat riot is the answer. Yes, Modi’s Hindu hardliner image and inflammatory speeches have led millions of impressionable youth to hating the minorities. He has led people to path of hate.
Meet The Naamdar – Born in the high castle with a silver spoon, the Prince spent days and months on the road
Born in the high castle with a silver spoon, has the Prince been able to touch people’s heart? Has he been able to gather, mobilize, and lead? Rahul Gandhi joined formal politics in 2004 when he contested and won from Amethi on a Congress ticket with over 200,000 votes (66% vote share). The so called heir to the throne slogged for 14 years before he could become the party president in December 2018. The Congress party led UPA coalition remained in power from 2004 to 2014 but Rahul stayed away from power.
In these ten-fourteen years he journeyed across the length and breadth of India to know its people. From dodgy potholes to the hot deserts, Rahul has traversed the wretched terrain on foot, by local trains, budget airlines, spent nights in villages, eating with locals, spending time with them, met daily wage labourers in the cities, the sanitation workers, the rickshaw drivers and so on. He came out of his comfort zone and plunged in people’s movement, in solidarity and in sheer joy and excitement of being a part of something great.
In 2008 he visited the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha where tribals were protesting against Vedanta mining work. “For the tribals of Kalahandi, there is a soldier in Delhi named Rahul Gandhi,” he told them. In 2010 after the Vedanta project was rejected by UPA government at Centre, he went back to them to celebrate their victory. “This decision was not anti-development, you have saved Niyamgiri…My work has only began, remember we are there to always listen to your voices,” he said.
In 2011 he dodged the police, got on a bike and reached the high tension area of Bhatta and Parsaul villages in UP where farmers had clashed with the police over their agitation against state government’s land acquisition. He was the first politicians to reach there against all advisories. Distractors called it a political stunt, but to many it seemed like the ‘Prince’ really wanted to know more about why the farmerspeople were pained.
In 2015, India saw one of its first student protests against Narendra Modi government’s attempt to capture institutions by placing on top, mediocre people with certain political leaning. Actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan was appointed as the Chairman of the prestigious FTII, Pune. The FTII students registered huge protest against the appointment of a person who had no academic or cinematic excellence, and whom students couldn’t look up for inspiration or learning. Rahul Gandhi met the student and extended his support, and lashed out against the Sangh Parivar and the Narendra Modi-led BJP government for “systematically promoting mediocrity” in India’s academic institutions. FTII Student Association President Harishankar Nachimuthu had earlier requested MPs across party lines to extend their support to the protest, and to Rahul in particular, he specifically requested to intervene in the ‘same manner’ as he had done in the issue of ban on Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) at IIT Madras. Reportedly, the May 2015 ban on the Dalit students’ body, APSC by IIT Madras was revoked in June 2015 after Rahul Gandhi kicked up a Twitter storm attacking the NDA government.
In Feb 2016 Rahul sat in hunger strike along with students of Hyderabad Central University in memory of PhD Scholar Rohith Vemula who committed suicide under various pressure from University administration. He visited HCU twice in this period and firmly extended his support to Rohith’s mother in her fight for justice. Addressing the Dalit Swabhiman Sabha, Rahul said, “Rohith Vemula did not commit suicide, rather he was murdered by the Government of India,” a statement which saw BJP’s sharp reaction demanding an apology from him.
Within days of visiting HCU, he joined another student protest, this time in JNU, against the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and others for allegedly raising anti-national slogans. This was perhaps one of the biggest risk Rahul has taken in his career as he was seen siding with “seditious” students who organized a memorial for convicted ‘terrorist’ Afzal Guru thereby giving BJP ammunition to label Congress as anti-Hindu. But bad optics didn’t deter him from being part of something he believed in. At the spontaneous midnight protest, amidst a roaring cheering crowd, he spoke from his heart. He mentioned Adolf Hitler and reminded the students that the suppression of freedom of speech is the first sign of impending fascism. In a bold statement he said, “A youngster expressed himself and the government says he is anti-national. The most anti-national are those who are suppressing the voice of this institution.” Without mincing words he directly hit out at BJP and RSS, “Don’t let them bully you, inside they are scared, they are terrified of weak people getting a voice, they are terrified one day you might turn around and ask them questions, and that is what you must do, question them,” said Gandhi to great applause.
A ruthless vindictive government and BJP have since then ran a smear campaign against JNU, its students, and anybody who supported them. Words like ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ have become part of regular media debates. 3 years since then Congress social media cell released a promotional video featuring the Azadi song from the JNU protests along with glimpses of Rahul’s participation in it. A clear sign that Rahul has not washed his hands off something he stood up for.
In June 2017, there was a massive agitations by the farmers in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh demanding loan waiver and higher prices for their produce. Clashes with the police erupted and five protestors were killed reportedly in police firing. Rahul Gandhi rushed to meet the farmers but was detained at Rajasthan-MP border. “I just want to meet the farmers, but if your ideology don’t match with RSS you are not allowed to enter MP. Mr Modi has waived loans of big corporate but he gives only bullets to farmers,” Rahul said making big media headlines and stunning imagery. He went back to MP in June 2018 to commemorate the farmer’s protests. In December 2018 Congress won the assembly elections in MP, on the main poll plank of farm loan waiver and agri-reforms and welfare. Here is a case study on how this man relentlessly walked the path alone even when his party workers were fatigued and depressed, till he gained people’s trust and votes.
Rahul has been detained and arrested by the police for joining or attempting to join people’s protests again and again. In November 2016 he was detained thrice in two days, when he tried to meet the family of martyr Ram Kishan Grewal who committed suicide over One Rank One Pension campaign. https://twitter.com/INCIndia/status/793826679793733632. Last year he was detained for protesting in front of the CBI headquarters against the Centre’s midnight coup by which it removed both the warring CBI Chiefs. Media and BJP leaders once again dismissed all his actions as political stunts and immature behaviour but somewhere Rahul had touched the masses. Not only the rural illiterate masses but even the urban middle class in the capital.
In early 2018 two cases of rape shook the nation’s conscience. The rape of a woman in Unnao, UP and an 8 year old Kashmiri tribal girl’s rape and murder in Kathua. For few days, Rahul expressed concern over the Unnao victim, asking questions to the government while staying silent over the Kathua case. This damaged his image and affirmed the soft Hindutva approach Congress is said to be taking. To undo the damage, Rahul was required to not just speak of Kathua victim but do something bigger. On 12th April, he suddenly announced that he would hold a midnight candle light vigil at India Gate for both the Kathua and Unnao victims, and requested everybody to join him. Reportedly party leaders had apprehensions over the vigil fearing a low turnout embarrassing the party, but Rahul didn’t care. “I don’t want to make it a political issue,” Rahul is learnt to have told Congress leaders. “…we need to reflect the mood of the country. A tweet here or there is simply not enough,” he added.
Thousands and thousands of ordinary people turned up at the vigil. Television media ran live footages till late at night. Rahul Gandhi had truly inspired his party workers, leaders, a section of the ordinary masses, and captured the imagination of the entire nation. Here is a leader who started a movement and led it from the front.
Five years hundreds of protests, agitations, and movements, millions took to streets, million voices asked questions, sought justice – democracy have never been more alive and kicking in this nation. Through these five years we woke up every day to a breaking news that told us fascism is approaching, and democracy is fiercely fighting back. Rahul Gandhi stood with the people at the heart of this fight. Narendra Modi the poor chaiwala remained silent and off limits. He has been traveling the world meeting his rich and influential friends. He couldn’t hear people’s cries, couldn’t feel people’s pain, he couldn’t care less for people, for he had bigger things to achieve. His image as the “tall leader”.
Rahul Gandhi walked alone even as his party felt dejected and hopeless, he didn’t stop until his party workers and people were inspired to join him. By December 2018 he had won three states. How many seats he can win in the 2019 general elections, we would know in few months. But even if he doesn’t win many, even if Modi comes back with resounding votes. He will still be a ruler, not people’s leader.