After a long mysterious vacation, Mr. Rahul Gandhi came back to India in mid- April this year. He seemed fresh, more talkative and rightly aggressive. He had a government waiting in, which the Congress Party had long declared to be authoritarian and opaque. The rhetoric of Congress’ ‘pro poor and pro farmer’ politics had been provided with a stage. The stage was in the limelight with subsequent developments. Firstly, on 31st December, 2014, NDA government passed an ordinance with an official mandate to “meet the twin objectives of farmer welfare; along with expeditiously meeting the strategic and developmental needs of the country.” The government then went on to pass the Bill in Lok Sabha on 10th March, 2015. The grand problem was of course the speedy urge to have an ordinance, and then getting it passed in the lower house without larger consultations and consensus. Though an all party meeting was called upon, but after issuing the ordinance.
The crux of the opposition’s argument was that since the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013” was passed on 1st January, 2013, during UPA-II, BJP supported it. Then, how such a speedy modification was warranted within a year? The Congress led opposition alleged that BJP led NDA government is out there to serve its corporate masters. It has failed to serve the needs of poor farmers, and is only considering the riches which funded BJP’s electoral gains. Congress party led a huge campaign, supported by Leftist trade and farmer unions to somehow pass on the ‘pro capitalist’ imagery of BJP. The issue alarmed and made ways to the ears of people. Everyone seemed concern with this speedy modification. The impact response was huge, and it led Hon. PM to devote a whole episode of his radio’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ to explain the new amended bill. The government did count on the inclusion of the thirteen acts which were left out earlier, fair compensation, not acquiring fertile land, and inability of even Congress Chief Ministers to acquire land for infrastructure development under prevailing act. The stage for wars of words was decorated, and appears Mr Gandhi, with flexed muscles, both on the body and tongue.
The Congress had been known as a party with some kind of ‘left to centre’ approach, in lay terms, dedicated to poor and farmers. There had been a greater concern in opposition block that Mr Gandhi should put up to a more significant role. And Mr Gandhi very soon wore the saviour robe again, the saviour of the poor. He started talking a lot; perhaps more in the past two months than what he did in a decade (if one quotes Nirmala Sitaraman saying this on NDTV). First, he attacked government on ‘net neutrality’ issue, claiming that government wants to carve out internet for corporate. And then, the highlight of land acquisition followed. He called government, ‘pro-rich’, ‘pro-Corporate’ and then ‘pro-builder’ and disclaimed the amended bill as ‘real estate bill’. But now comes a history check. How can Rahul Gandhi forget that more than 1500 farmers committed suicide in Vidharbha alone in a year during UPA-I? How the angry writings of veteran journalists like P. Sainath for many months could not push UPA government into action? Why the UPA government left out the ‘thirteen acts’ out of the purview of compensation? Why UPA government sanctioned 181 applications soon after getting the SEZ Act passed in 2005 under Mr. Kamal Nath, then Commerce minister? And still today the land acquired in the range of 10, 000 to 35, 000 acres after 2005 at lowest rates for richest business houses have incomplete projects and unutilized lands. Someone may please ask Mr. Gandhi that after remaining in power for about fifty five years in independent India, why the Congress Party didn’t come with a compensation and rehabilitation act much earlier. It must be brought to the notice that till 2013, land was being acquired according to the ‘Land Acquisition Act, 1894’ drafted in colonial India. What took us sixty six years to repel a draconian British law? Why the ‘garibi hatao’ dedicated Congress ministries didn’t think this early? Isn’t it true that for providing a ‘pro-business’ environment, and to complement it with the ease to acquire land, the 2013 Bill was passed in a haste? Then is it not a political drama to call the reforms of the present NDA government a ‘pro-business’ interest.
Rahul Gandhi collected the opposition’s applaud by calling the government, a ‘suit- boot ki sarkar’. The political rhetoric should be substantiated with a critique of facts, and an appeal of masses. He began a ‘kisan pad-yatra’ (walking journey) on April 30th, with a 15 Km march across Amravati, where around 300 farmers have committed suicide since the beginning of the year. The media was glaring with picture of the ‘Congress’ prince’ in summer heat, walking and travelling in passenger class in trains. Of course, a step of appreciation that political leaders should come out of centralized air conditioned halls of parliament to have a reality check. But the moral side of the story caught Mr. Gandhi on the wrong foot again. The making of the ‘suicide capital’ in Maharashtra’s heart is not a single year phenomenon. It took years of exploitative system, technology crisis, credit schemes, and overall agrarian crisis in the making.
If one can recall that how many times Mr. Gandhi visited the poor farmers in last decade of UPA rule. Why still a certain political class believes that people have such a brief stint of memory, is amazing. Never the Congress or Mr. Gandhi was appreciative of any of the social welfare schemes which the government worked out. The vast coverage of banking inclusion through ‘Jana- Dhan Yojana’ and other insurance and pension schemes were never talked for. They were only mentioned as an extension of UPA’s policies. Now this is really unjust on the part of Congress, which should be a responsible and moral opposition. As soon as Mr Gandhi’s jibe of ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ came, someone from the government was quick in reminding him of his ‘suit boot ke brother-in-law’. And by now, the Congress or the head family have never come clear on the controversial stealth. Now a commission of enquiry appointed by the Harayana government in place, the truth should come out.
Rahul Gandhi was also very sceptical about the foreign visits of PM Narendra Modi. He had an angry overtone about PM addressing Indian Diaspora in Shanghai claiming that identifying being an Indian was shame before. Though the context of the claim was much larger, but catching a phrase, the whole opposition and a large section of social media seemed ablaze. Rahul claimed that he was proud being an Indian, and criticized Prime Minister severely. He couldn’t understand that someone of a stature of Narendra Modi should surely know that India’s image cannot be construed in one day. Since Mr Gandhi was speaking in a public rally, no one could afford him to remind something very crucial. Mr Gandhi himself claimed that he was being ashamed to be an Indian in 2011. The context was his visit to the dissenting farmers in Bhata Parsaul in Greater Noida. Now, since one knows that his being ashamed remarks were over the violence unleashed on men and women there by the state government, so no one put the words in his mouth. In the same fashion, he should easily understands the logic given by Prime Minister. But when the meanness of politics extends beyond morality, such allegations over misinterpretation become fashionable.
Did Mr Gandhi also feel proud when a constitutionally elected chief minister of India was denied visa by USA? Did Mr Gandhi also feel proud when sixty two MPs wrote to American senators appealing not to offer visa to Narendra Modi? Did Mr Gandhi also feel proud in underplaying Islamic fundamentalism, and claiming that home grown Hindu terrorism is a bigger challenge, in a conversation with an American ambassador? These are some of the pressing questions which people will ask him. People will ask him that why he represented a party leading one of the most corruption infected governments in Indian history? Had he been so poor and farmer friendly, why those poor people voted himout of the power, with the worst electoral debacle since the first elections?
The parliamentary democracy works out because of a balance of trust, critic and unity between the government and the opposition. An opposition delivering a healthy politics should unsympathetically criticise government for its policy paralysis or error of judgements. On the other hand, it should also praise and encourage government over its hits, and better policies. The political culture of hatred and rivalry which infested India after Mrs. Indira Gandhi has destructed this chord of trust. The decreasing hours of parliamentary debates, the lesser questions raised and the attitude of not getting the house run is a serious concern.
For Mr Gandhi, here he can learn a lot from his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru was a democrat, who used to listen appreciatively to his arch critics Dr Rammanohar Lohia, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and C Rajgopalachari. He used to comply with the critics by mending his ways. The kind of politics which Mr Rahul Gandhi subscribes to is only about taking leftward turn to every right effort of government. After an uneventful political life so far, one hopes that Mr. Gandhi will now put right actions in his word. One hopes that he takes up the role of a real leader, and makes government accountable for the effectiveness of the democratic culture. It is good, that finally he is speaking, but one wishes him to speak with the substance, and not just for the sake of it. I wish what famous historian Ramachandra Guha claimed once in 2013 about Mr Gandhi changes for a while. Ram Guha called Mr Gandhi; confused, lazy and mediocre, though sincere and likeable. One wishes he gives up his confusion and laziness to emerge as an effective sincere voice of a fragmented opposition.
By Shaan Kashyap