In Parliament on Wednesday, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had clarified that the prime minister in his speeches “did not question, nor did he mean to question, the commitment to this nation” of either former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or former Vice President Hamid Ansari, that “any such perception is erroneous, we hold these leaders in high esteem, as well as their commitment to India”. In response, Leader of Opposition in the Upper House and Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad dissociated his party from the remarks made by his partymen against PM Modi during the Gujarat election campaign.
These conciliatory statements were reportedly arrived at after prolonged backroom parleys involving senior leaders on both sides. It was hoped that they would salvage what remains of the Winter Session, which otherwise looked locked in a stalemate. Hours after the hard-won truce, however, Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s tweet, calling the finance minister “Mr Jaitlie” and thanking him for “reminding India that our PM never means what he says or says what he means”, threatens the fragile peace, revives hostilities. The BJP has moved a privilege motion against Gandhi. Now, the Congress president’s tweet doesn’t just loom over the government-opposition equation, it also proclaims his willingness to undercut a commitment made by seniors in his own party.
When Mani Shankar Aiyar had used the word “neech” in a remark on the PM during the Gujarat election campaign, Rahul Gandhi had been quick to condemn it and distance the party from Aiyar. He would not mock the prime minister, said Gandhi, at that time. He respected the office, he said, and so should every Congress worker. That stance said some reassuring things about a leader who seemed keen on a makeover and was, in the process, pledging to uphold a modicum of dignity in public discourse.
Rahul Gandhi seemed to have come a long way from the impetuous vice-president who walked into a Congress press meet and tore up an ordinance passed by the UPA government, undermining his prime minister’s authority and displaying a sense of entitlement that is terribly out of place in a spirited and argumentative democracy. His latest tweet harks back to the ordinance-tearing leader, not the measured campaigner seen in Gujarat.
As Congress president, Rahul Gandhi’s words and actions will be looked at and judged more closely, he will be held to a higher standard. Though down to 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the Congress continues to be the main Opposition party. It does not behove its president to make light of the pact between his own party and the government, and show casual disrespect to holders of high office.