With His Hug, RG Snatched The Narrative From Modi, Forced Headlines To Take Notice
The BJP Blundered In Banking Too Heavily On Modi, who looked rattled and nervous.
Every newspaper in the country today has a photograph of Rahul Gandhi hugging Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His critics may call it churlish, but had he not done that, and knowing our media, the headlines would have only focused on Modi’s speech. Through the hug, Rahul snatched half the space away from Modi.
It was a watershed moment of Rahul’s political life. He challenged, he hugged, he winked the invincible he won hearts in yesterday’s maiden No Confidence Motion against Modi government.
After 15 years, the parliament witnessed such a debate. But it was never about numbers. That the NDA would sail through the halfway mark was clear as daylight. The larger point was to make it palpable that the government is being scrutinized, held accountable by everybody in the opposition. And they succeeded through some powerful speeches.
Modi may have won the arithmetic, but the debate was conquered by opposition parties. The ruling government ministers were surprisingly lacklustre, in spite of having fine orators like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ravi Shankar Prasad. Yet, except Rajnath Singh, none of the seniors participated. They banked heavily on Modi, which proved to be the blunder. His speech was well off the mark. He looked rattled, and nervous. And after having mocked Rahul for referring to notes while making a speech some time back, it was amusing to see Modi resorting to it yesterday.
He even made fun of Sonia Gandhi’s accent which was unbecoming of a Prime Minister. Rahul’s speech was his best in the parliament till today. It was passionate, aggressive, to the point and, to an extent, explosive. It was better than his Kalawati or Lokpal speech. He focused on the economy and corruption, and he may have divulged the opposition’s election slogan, when he said, “Chowkidar nahi, bhagidar hai.”
By referring to Rafale Deal at the beginning of the speech, he put the treasury benches on the back foot immediately. In the past, Congress had accused Modi government of corruption in this deal. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had refused to divulge the details under the pretext of official secrecy. Obviously, Rahul’s bombshell was too much for BJP to stay quiet. Besides, he touched upon all important subjects in his speech-from Doklam to hate mongering. ‘Jadu ki jhappi’ was the climax. It was totally unexpected and unprecedented.
Indian parliament has never witnessed a moment like this. Modi himself was so shocked that he didn’t know how to respond for a moment. Even BJP members started clapping. This hug and the wink that followed after the gesture made the day for electronic media. While it may have been the moment of the day, it also provided an opportunity to Godi media to focus only on that and ignore the points he raised. A channel even asked Priya Warrier what she thought of the wink.
However, it is our responsibility to talk about the things that matter. He challenged Modi to look into eyes and said, ‘ You may call me Pappu but I don’t hate you’. This was a clear statement on the hate politics of Modi and BJP. He might well have set the agenda for the impending election campaign. In today’s poisonous atmosphere of mob lynching and hate mongering this is an apt message. A section of media ridiculed him for this. But Rahul is trying to set a different style in Indian politics. It resembles the youthful approach of Justine Trudeau or Emanuel Macron. It will take time to establish, and would depend on how Rahul persists with it.
The BJP was evidently bewildered by the speech. They did not expect it and decided to focus only on the hug, like the media, to deride the speech. They called it childish and made the Lok Sabha Speaker condemn it, which clearly seemed like an afterthought because when it happened, she clearly looked amused, and not angry.
Yesterday’s speech, knowingly or unknowingly, may have made Rahul the opposition leader. If he does emerge as the face, this would have been the decisive moment. The opposition can build their campaign on the foundations laid yesterday.
Surprisingly, Modi’s speech was far from impressive. Modi was NDA’s star batsman, but he failed to deliver. The content and style seemed monotonous. He spoke for more than one and a half without saying anything new. He is usually a good orator, but yesterday was not his day. His speech was a compilation of government handouts.
His personal attack on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi did not work. They were hollow words of a non-performing leader. When you lose credibility, your words are meaningless. BJP had no backup plan. The performance of South Indian MPs is also debatable. Some of them delivered impactful speeches, but they were concerned only about their own state. Not a single speaker from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu spoke about national issues. The north-south disconnect was visible. But the performances of young MPs were far better than experienced leaders.
Telugu Desam fielded young articulate MPs. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s speech was a damp squib. Tariq Anwar was unimpressive. The country belongs to youth. Parties should give more opportunities to their young MPs. Why the NCP did not field Supriya Sule is beyond comprehension.
The most heartening thing with yesterday’s debate was the parties did not rake communal passions and focused on real issues. However, the issues pertaining to the agrarian crisis could have been discussed in greater details.
The Role OF The Speaker
The role of the speaker is very critical in such debates. But Sumitra Mahajan could not strike the balance. There were moments when one thought she betrayed her inclinations. She did not allow the mention of RSS in the entire discussion. She rightly stopped opposition when they used unparliamentary words. But did not expunged a BJP MP who called Rahul Gandhi ‘Nachne Thumaknewala’. How did Modi start his speech exactly at the ‘Prime Time’ of the news television, only Lok Sabha Speaker can explain.
This debate once again proved Modi is not invincible. With by poll victories in their pocket, this moral victory will definitely boost the confidence of united opposition. One thing is for sure. 2019 Lok Sabha election will not be a one-sided affair.
Nikhil Wagle is a senior journalist.