A few weeks ago, I was caught in a debate with three ‘liberal’ journalist friends on how the media should deal with this creature called Rahul Gandhi.
With the advent of Narendra Modi, the liberals of our society are scared – or at least they claim to be. The devil incarnate himself will destroy the social fabric of this country, they argue. The great tradition of liberal thought inherited from Jawaharlal Nehru and passed on through his family will come to an end. One even summed up the situation in Modi’s own words: “Bhay ka mahol hai” (fear is in the air).
So, the solution they suggested was to strengthen the new icon of young, liberal India, no one less than Nehru’s great grandson himself – Rahul Gandhi. As I was scratching my head at this thought, they added that people like me do great disservice to the nation by belittling the little (metaphorically) Gandhi each time he opens his mouth. “He visits Dalits across the country, eats with them (and then claims poverty is a state of mind), you make a fun of him” they said. “He tries to democratise the Congress party (he is an undemocratically appointed Vice President), you make fun of him”. And, “He tries to change the system and fight corruption (by stopping action against Ashok Chavan and taking Lalu Prasad Yadav as an ally), you make fun of him.”
The three of them went on and on about how it is the duty of the liberal media to strengthen Rahul Gandhi as he is the strongest liberal candidate against Modi. I think they even used the phrase “war like situation”.
This argument kept coming to my mind as I watched Rahul Gandhi being grilled by Arnab Goswami. And I wondered, as I had during the original argument: have the liberals failed themselves? Instead of blaming Narendra Modi or the BJP, shouldn’t the liberals do some self introspection for creating a situation where they have to depend on a single party and a single family to throw up a leader? And if the leader turns out to be – let me be blunt – confused and lost, what happens to the liberal cause?
A senior colleague recalled a conversation she’d once had with a Bollywood actor who happens to be Muslim. Given a choice between a dictator and an idiot, he’d said, he would prefer a dictator any day; at least a dictator would have a clear vision about the country. Of course, he didn’t elaborate on whom he referred to as the dictator and who the idiot. Because the status of both Modi and Rahul in their respective parties is nothing less than dictatorial.
But, coming back to the issue of the state of the liberals in this country. Why do we have a situation where the liberal space is shrinking, and even within the available space, the option are limited? The Hindu right has slowly and steadily created a political entity for itself. Apart from the BJP, it has other fringe groups advocating – correctly or otherwise – their ideology.
But when it comes to the liberals, all the eggs are in one basket: the Indian National Congress, at least on a national level. People might argue that there are many groups or smaller political parties who also advocate liberal political values, but I do not see them as big enough a challenger in the Parliament.
The decayed structure or the “system” of the Congress (which Rahul Gandhi claims he wants to change) is, of course, partly responsible for failing to throw up an equivalent of Modi from the liberal space. But the larger question is: is there a possibility of another political entity in the liberal space?
Some might say yes, keeping in mind the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Now whether the AAP is a liberal entity or just a confused bundle of leftist ideas remains to be seen. In my opinion, it has still not been able to evolve out of its NGO-ish ideals, which is important if it wants to occupy the political space. Also, what is important for it is to enforce the liberal ideas as an ideology rather than depending on issues like corruption to win elections. Issues can only win you one or two elections, but it is the ideology that sustains cadres and strengthens a party. Will the AAP become the alternate liberal option in this country? I have my apprehensions due to the way it is currently governing Delhi. But the good thing is that the AAP coming to power has shown that India has an aptitude for non-right wing politics.
Then there is, of course, the question the scion of a media house put to me: “What is this left wing and right wing? I do not get it.” That made me think: does the common man on the streets understand what left wing politics or right wing politics, or even liberal politics? We call the Congress liberal, whereas economically it has been pro-market. We call the BJP right wing, but it opposes FDI in retail.
Even on the issue of religious minorities, the Congress’s role is not very clean. It was Rahul Gandhi’s own father who opened the gates of the Babri Masjid. Even on the Gujarat v/s Delhi debate, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t sound convinced. Listening to his reply to Arnab Goswami’s question on this issue, one wasn’t sure if Gandhi was himself convinced about Modi’s criminality (if any) in 2002, or his own party men’s innocence in 1984 (he did acknowledge that some Congressmen were involved). Gandhi tried to use the argument of the law taking it own course for the Congressmen accused in anti-Sikh riots, but would not accept a court’s clean chit to Modi. Why?
Recently I chatted with an old right wing ideologue about how within the BJP, internal criticism of leaders has lessened as the party has become less and less ideology-driven and more icon-driven – nowadays it’s Modi. This reminded me of the Congress. The decay of the Congress began when Indira became India and India became Indira. Rahul Gandhi, who now talks of democracy and transparency, has his own grandmother to thank for the systematic destruction of the grand old party of India, and also many other independent institutions.
If one looks at the entire current lot of the top Congress leaders, most of them are not even directly elected or are mass leaders. Nearly all have either been cherry-picked by one of the Gandhis (Indira, Rajiv, Sanjay, and now Rahul) or they have managed to stay put by accepting the family’s de facto leadership. If Rahul Gandhi’s intentions are in the right place, the entire top brass of the Congress - including himself - will lose their jobs. But I doubt that would ever happen. In fact, now we will see the next generation of Gandhi boys and girls. Some of them are already in place, creating a non-transparent undemocratic continuation of the Nehru-Gandhi tradition. Rahul Gandhi goes around the country tom-tomming about the RTI, when his own ‘war room’ is infamously non-transparent even within the party. The people of India had to wait ten years for the prince to speak.
Why will India accept Rahul? This is no more Indira’s or Rajiv’s India. You cannot presume you have inherited this great mantle of liberalism. You have to earn it, and neither your actions nor your words show that you are serious or even up for it. Don’t give us this patronising attitude that you never chose to be born a Gandhi. We Indians still haven’t chosen you to lead us. You are merely a Member of Parliament.
Coming back to the issue of liberal politics, the liberals in this country have only themselves to blame for the current situation. Modi didn’t take out any rath yatras or demolish another Babri Masjid. The Gujarat riots happened when he had just taken over as chief minister. Since then, his slate has been clean. He picked up on the issues of governance that really matter to the common man and created a niche for himself. While interacting with Muslims students, I have found a change in attitude toward Modi. “Let the court decide whether he is guilty or not, but the fact is he is a good CM” is what I hear in Muslim educational institutions. The liberals have to introspect: have they created a liberal Modi – a mass charismatic leader?
In the name of liberal politics, or the more abused secularism, you liberals have been mute spectators to the destruction of democratic institutions. Sitting in your cosy South Delhi drawing rooms, you cared least when Indira Gandhi split the Congress, when she imposed emergency, when her son Sanjay imposed himself on the Indian public, when her son Rajiv was appointed prime minister, when Rajiv dismissed the elected government in Jammu and Kashmir, when Rajiv opened the gates of the Babri Masjid to counter the BJP, when Narsimha Rao did nothing as Babri Masjid fell, when Sonia Gandhi imposed a Lok Sabha-defeated Manmohan Singh as PM, when Rahul was imposed on the Congress, and now attempts are being made to impose him on India.
You liberals of India are responsible for Modi. If you didn’t see this coming, you are truly living in a bubble. Now enjoy the Modifiers.
Kunal Majumder is Associate Editor (Digital) at Zee Media Corporation. He tweets @kunalmajumder.