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Gandhi Single-Handedly Did What The Entire Free Press Should Be Doing In A Democracy — Holding Power To Account.

Rahul's knockout hug that felled Modi.

From Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, we are all used to watching knock-out punches being delivered in a boxing ring. Rahul Gandhi may be a martial art black belt but he did not deliver the knock-out with a punch. It was with a hug, which was preceded by a sharp and biting speech, which left Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a state of terrified shock and BJP in tatters. He took control of the headlines, the TV screens and the social media and sent Amit Shah’s panna pramukhs running helter-skelter.

Gandhi made a losing vote of confidence irrelevant by hugging a terrified Modi, the self-styled 56-inch chest PM, who prefers to terrify people and is a serial hugger of foreign leaders. A stunned Modi refused to hug Gandhi back, but then he got his scattered wits together, recognised the presence of the TV cameras and did a half-hearted handshake with Gandhi. He even tried to patronise Gandhi with a half-pat on the Congress leader’s back, but Gandhi’s wink with his Congress colleagues as he returned to his seat won the nation over.

The hug that sent the headlines trending and TV screens drooling followed a no holds barred speech, as Gandhi landed a surgical strike on Modi’s spin of “good governance”. He shattered the claims of Modi and Shah to smithereens, granularly ripping it apart on a range of issues which hit the ruling party where it hurts..

Gandhi started off by saying that the women, farmers and Dalits of the country had all suffered and were victims of the “jumla strikes” by one man and his hubristic government.

Gandhi pulled no punches and accused both Modi and Nirmala Sitharaman of lying about the Rafale deal, how it was taken away from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and given to a billionaire crony of Modi. Gandhi was direct and pulled no punches. He pointed out that this particular crony had no defence experience and was mired in debt to the tune of thousands of crores.

Unable to face the sharp attack, the BJP alternated between schizophrenic spells of howling fury (when Gandhi alleged that Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, BJP president had seen a humongous rise in his fortunes during the tenure of the Modi government) to staged laughter (when Gandhi made a couple of flubs in Hindi).

Despite the staged laughter, Modi’s face said it all – it was ashen. Gandhi ploughed on, unflustered by the jeering laughter and launched the quote of the day: “Modi promised to be a chowkidar par woh bhaagidar hain” (Modi promised to be a guard but he is partaking in the loot), you could clearly see the rage on Modi’s face. Modi is unused to two-way communication and seems to abhor it. He likes long, preachy and staged monologues, where he can milk sympathy.

The BJP screaming and jeering, seemed less like a ruling party with an absolute majority and more like a bunch of roadside bullies shouting and in a scramble.

As for the speaker Sumitra Mahajan she was evidently under pressure from the shrill interjections of Sithharaman and Ananth Kumar who kept raising their voice about ‘defamation’. Mahajan then delivered a homily about being respectful. Not the floor of the House, Madam Speaker, it is the marketplace of a real and raucous democracy. Rahul aptly told her: Daro Mat.

Modi emerged clearly as a man entirely surrounded by sycophants and now entirely incapable of hearing anything remotely negative. The essence of parliamentary democracy – which is listening – perhaps took him entirely by surprise.

Gandhi’s speech came after the newly appointed chief whip of the BJP, Anurag Thakur threatened on the floor of the House that he would not let the opposition speak. Odd? But, then this is ‘New India’s New BJP for you – threatening to choke debate in the fount of democracy. Perhaps, Thakur who has an uneasy relationship with Modi and Shah was trying to win his spurs by intimidating the opposition. Sadly for him, it did not work with Gandhi.

Unlike Gandhi, Modi prefers to maintain an unsmiling, grim, Victorian head-master look to terrify his colleagues, the opposition and the country into submission. Gandhi’s attack and focus on Modi’s string of unbroken promises, the succour he has provided to his billionaire cronies, the Modi-made demonisation disaster, the enrichment of his doppelgänger Shah, all seemed to have left Modi shaken – and stirred.

BJP’s apoplectic rage during Gandhi’s speech ensured that the House was forcibly adjourned by the ruling party and government – unheard of in the annals of parliamentary history. Remember this when the lemming-like media, loyally reports the claims made by a serial array of Cabinet Ministers, specially the Minister for Gandhi-trolling, Smriti Irani who has been sacked from two high profile ministries by Modi but been kept in the ministry, only to attack Gandhi and try and keep conveying that the BJP “does not take Gandhi seriously”.

Each day this claim is repeated by the endless assembly line array of near-feral, abusive and arrogant BJP spokesperson, and each day the so-called free press swallows the pabulum.

Gandhi single-handedly did what the entire free press should be doing in a democracy — holding power to account. Unfortunately except for a few rare exceptions, the panna pramukhs in the media today are holding the opposition to account.

Some of Shah’s panna pramukhs could not contain their rage and vented their spleen on Gandhi for “nautanki”. All these brave souls were maintaining a studied silence when the original king of “nautanki” was being unveiled. They were performing somersaults to clap and endorse each “master-stroke” of the Modi and Shah duo. One even said that Gandhi should have “stuck to Hindi” as if the South and eastern India does not matter. They made a spectacle of themselves clutching at straws to criticise Gandhi.

A stunned BJP eventually tweeted: “thank you for the entertainment,” with a visual of Modi laughing. But the BJP, in its arrogance mixed with nervousness, does not realise that the joke is only on them.

For Rahul Gandhi, it was a winning moment where he did not have to become a clone of Modi to defeat him, as many unfortunately clamour for. He forcefully posited “love” against Modi’s “hate”, stuck to his ideology and lucidly laid out what the Congress stands for. His performance has generated political tremors; tremors which will be felt well outside the thick and beautiful stone-walls of Parliament.

Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi based journalist.

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