Saturday 31 December 2016

It’s Belchi or Shah Bano for Rahul Gandhi (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

The fact is that Rahul Gandhi is losing political capital each day that he abstains from attempting to make the promised earthquake-sized revelations about Modi. 

Politicians in high office usually commit a mistake that drains away their political capital and leaves them vulnerable. Although the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 is regarded as the point when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao became vulnerable, his fall from effective authority began earlier, with the facilitated departure from India of Ottavio Quattrocchi. From that time onwards, Rao had no effective defence against sniper attacks originating from 10 Janpath, and over time, these multiplied to a level that cost the Congress Party led by Rao dearly in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls. While holding the same office, Manmohan Singh did not fall into the error of Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Narasimha Rao, who had each assumed that occupying the Prime Minister’s House gave immunity from downfall by 10 Janpath. In different ways, the Nehru family ensured the fall of each of the three PMs. The escape of Quattrocchi landed not just Rao in trouble, but Atal Behari Vajpayee as well, for his government in 2003 allowed the fugitive to escape, this time not from India, but from Malaysia. In both cases, Sonia Gandhi soon afterwards successfully stepped up her aggression against the two, in the case of Vajpayee, succeeding in defeating the BJP in 2004. In the case of Manmohan Singh, his “failure” to capture Mr Q in Argentina ensured his tenure as PM till 2014. Of course, the Italian fixer was seen as close only to the Mainos, whereas Vijay Mallya had many more friends in the Congress Party than in the BJP. Hence the tepid public reception given to allegations by the former ruling party of collusion between Mallya and the NDA. In contrast, who can forget the winning boost received by Indira Gandhi during her visit to Belchi in 1977, compared to the rapid loss of political traction by Rajiv Gandhi after he backed the discriminatory and communally charged Shah Bano bill in 1986?
Those in the BJP say that there is no chance of any credible corruption charge against Modi, whose family has derived near zero benefit from the perch occupied by their relative, in contrast to the Nehru family.
Manmohan Singh went downhill in the public mind after the 2G scandal erupted in full earnest, but this was ignored by the Congress leadership, who persisted with him to the cost of the Congress Party. However, once Narendra Modi romped to victory on the backs of Congress unpopularity and Opposition disunity, Rahul Gandhi seemed to find a new purpose, to follow the example set by the Republican Party in the United States and block major legislative proposals of the BJP, especially if these would give an advantage to the saffron party during the 2019 polls. Especially since 8 November 2016, Rahul pulled ahead of his competition in the Anti-Modi sweepstakes, declaiming against the Prime Minister wherever he went. He sent tremors of anticipation, especially within other Opposition parties, after claiming that he had an “earthquake” in his possession that the Prime Minister was nervous about, not that Modi gave any such sign of anxiety. By several times mentioning the severity of the impact of whatever revelations he had in his possession, Rahul Gandhi boosted the oxygen levels of the Opposition and for a while became their de facto leader. However, his subsequent rehashing of Prashant Bhushan’s Sahara-Birla charges against Prime Minister Modi came as a letdown, all but reducing Rahul Gandhi to the status of an object of derision both among the political class as well as the rest of the country. Was this minor temblor the “earthquake” that had been promised so often? 
Congress leaders whispered that “more was coming”, that the Bhushan charges were repeated by the AICC vice-president only as an appetiser, with the main course soon to follow. Others secretly smirked at what they saw as fear gripping 10 Janpath at going after a popular PM not known to turn the other cheek to his foes. Some said, ludicrously, that the “main course” would be delivered only just before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The fact is that Rahul Gandhi is losing political capital each day that he abstains from attempting to make the promised earthquake-sized revelations about Modi. By the end of January, it would be perceived that he has nothing to reveal and that his talk of an earthquake was mere bombast. Once Rahul’s re-telling of the Bhushan charges fizzled to the close of its brief lifespan, most of the Opposition parties went back to their previous disdain for the Congress vice-president. Those in the BJP say that there is no chance of any credible corruption charge against Modi, whose entire family has derived near zero benefit from the lofty perch occupied by their relative, much as the family of another son of Gujarat gained nothing at all from the spectacular climb of Mahatma Gandhi to the acme of fame, in contrast to the Nehru family, which consolidated its grip on power generation after generation. If, as his critics say, Rahul Gandhi is simply firing blanks, the Congress vice-president is likely to slowly but steadily disappear from the centre of attention of the country’s politics. Rahul has just the period before the Budget Session of Parliament to deliver on his claim of “earthquake force revelations” against PM Modi, the man responsible for giving his party a majority in the Lok Sabha. Either that or he will enter into a process of disappearance from the political scene. The month ahead will either be Rahul Gandhi’s Belchi or his Shah Bano moment.

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