Our Edit: The RSS Canard That ‘There Is No Alternative’ To Modi In 2019 Has Been Sealed For Good.
Let’s not forget, proceedings in Parliament were supposed to be a walkover for Modi.
The motion of no-confidence in the BJP government led by Narendra Modi was moved by Telugu Desam party, which was its ally till very recently. Media reports before the debate on the motion on Friday predicted a cakewalk for Modi, where he would tear into the opposition and launch his campaign for 2019 general elections.
Some of the analysts went as far as to mock the “foolishness” of the opposition leader, in particular, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party, for handing Modi a platform from which he would blast the Congress president and show that the country had no confidence in him.
But ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley,’ and the same happened with Modi on Friday. Just a couple of hours into the debate, the actual vote on the motion had been rendered irrelevant — by a searing speech, followed by a gesture hitherto unseen in Indian parliament — by Gandhi. He had not only set the parliamentary agenda for the day, or captured the TV screens and social media hashtags for the day, leaving Modi and his men shell-shocked but unleashed something far more consequential for the direction of Indian polity. It is about the political momentum which came from that moment.
To remain focused only on Gandhi’s post-speech gesture – a hug and a wink – would be to diminish the importance of issues raised by him, with a passion, heft and force, that left Modi and the BJP with no answers.
These are the questions, about Modi’s promises and performance – from black money to jobs to smart cities to farmers’ incomes to industrial decline to economic stagnation to demonetization disaster – which will now be asked again and again till May 2019. Modi can’t run away from answering them, hiding behind his petty assaults on the Gandhi family or by diverting attention to Hindu-Muslim polarization.
The forceful manner in which Gandhi posited his party’s message of love versus Modi’s language of hate simply blunted the knife of ‘Hindu-Muslim’ polarization. That he did so without becoming a clone of Modi, but by being frank, honest, bold and aggressive about what he believes in.
Compared to the Congress’ defensiveness about Gandhi meeting Muslim intellectuals or discomfort with Shashi Tharoor’s statement on ‘Hindu Pakistan’, Gandhi’s gesture of love made no bones about solidarity, amity, inclusiveness, and harmony being intrinsic to India without getting trapped into Modi’s framework of vitriolic hatred for Muslims as being pro-Hindu.
Gandhi lifted the argument to another level, asking Modi to choose between love and hate, and Modi was forced to eschew his usual dog-whistle about Muslims in his response, because even he knows that no one wants to be seen as a proponent of hate.
The question now is not whether you are pro-Hindu or pro-Muslim, the question now is that are you for ‘love’ or are you for ‘hatred’?
The answer in a country as young as India is crystal-clear, and it is a question Modi will find difficult to avoid.
Emotion, both negative and positive, evoked by political figures, has often been central to their sway as charismatic leaders. The refrain has so far been that it was only the BJP making an emotional appeal to the electorate, even if cast in angry tones of an anti-Muslim pitch. With ‘love’ placed clearly over and top of the more pointed charges of misgovernance, Rahul was able to plant his own emotional calling in the Lok Sabha, and state clearly what the Congress stood for, breaking right through, attempts to cast the Congress as a ‘Muslim’ party.
Besides placing himself above the Modi’s framework of Hindu-Muslim, Gandhi’s aggression has radically enthused his supporters, party workers and the common Indian. This is a booster dose that the Congress party needed desperately.
The RSS canard that ‘There is No Alternative’ to Modi in 2019 has been sealed for good. Modi helped the cause by solely attacking Gandhi in his two-hour-long speech, building him up as the opposition leader he was taking seriously. Seeing the faces of BJP ministers running helter-skelter on TV, mouthing bizarre statements, as the images of a stunned Modi were splashed all over newspapers, TV screens and social media platforms, made it amply clear that Modi and BJP were struggling to deal with this Gandhi. This is among the biggest outcomes of Friday’s no-confidence vote.
Modi and Shah’s ‘Congress-mukt’ slogan has for four years looked like reality, with the RSS with its totalitarian approach, seeking to subsume India. This was further underscored when Congress veteran and ex-President Pranab Mukherjee with his presence in Nagpur pushed the Congress on the backfoot.
But Rahul, stating clearly that he was intent on converting everyone to the Congress, where Congress stood for love and harmony, cast an ideological gauntlet to the Modi-led BJP, which would certainly make them shuffle. So far, with the Congress seen as loose and ideology-free did not even give confidence to all Progressives. By aggressively stating that it was the Congress, which mirrored the personality and spirit of diverse India, with the card of harmony and peaceful co-existence, he drew new and sharp battle lines.
Friday’s debate also done one good thing for the opposition. Parties like the TMC and the TRS, known to have a tacit understanding with the BJP, have been keen to spike the leadership of Gandhi and Congress party for 2019 by proposing the idea of a federal front. All their attempts have been nipped in the bud, now that it is clear that Gandhi stands head and shoulders above all the opposition leaders. This is not to say that opposition is a solo-starrer like Modi’s BJP – it may still be a multi-starrer with a strong cast – but the protagonist and lead is now firmly with Gandhi. This clarity will only add to the arithmetical and political advantage that the opposition possesses in 2019 general elections.
As the country moves into poll mode for 2019, it has witnessed a cracker of a political moment on Friday. Congress and the opposition parties will have to maintain the standards set by Gandhi, to maintain the momentum unleashed by this moment and not just gloat about it.
Modi’s poor performance over the past four years has made his record indefensible and going by his speech yesterday, he knows that he is on a weak wicket. This was not Modi’s end, but the beginning of Modi’s end. Hardly has that been done with a speech, a hug and a wink. But Gandhi did the unthinkable. Keep it up, and let us all join in to do what needs to be done to preserve a plural, progressive, liberal, diverse India.