Updated: August 18, 2021 4:50:58 pm
Democracy is indeed the best form of government, in spite of some shortcomings. Debate, discussion, bipartisanship and accountability are significant traits of this form of government. However, respecting the popular mandate constitutes its cornerstone. In fact, in the last 74 years, the biggest lesson of independent India is that people know they can change a government led by any party or leader through the power of the vote.
The real problem of the Congress party, including its leader Sonia Gandhi, is the refusal to acknowledge the back-to-back mandate Prime Minister Narendra Modi received in 2014 and 2019. The tone and tenor of her article, ‘In need of repair’ (IE, August 6) reinforces this point.
The Congress, having dominated the polity for so many years, is reluctant to reconcile with its present status: It failed to get the numbers to be acknowledged as the leading Opposition party in the Lok Sabha. Recent Vidhan Sabha elections, too, confirm the party’s consistent decline. An otherwise great party has become a family concern. Curiously, Mrs Gandhi wrote her article on a day when a woman leader left her party and another leader questioned the ability of some family members to lead the party.
In his very first prime ministerial address on August 15, 2014, PM Modi gave due credit to all the previous prime ministers, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, besides recognising the role of other giants of our freedom struggle, like Sardar Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri. He appreciated their role in this year’s address too. However, it was surprising to see Sonia Gandhi mentioning Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose in her article.
After independence, the Congress governments led by the Gandhis had ignored these leaders’ contributions in the making of modern India.
Patel, who unified India, died in 1950, but he was given the Bharat Ratna only after 41 years, in 1991. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, another giant of the freedom movement, died in 1958 and he got the Bharat Ratna only in 1992. The prime minister in 1991-92 was P V Narasimha Rao, a non-family leader. The insult meted out to Rao after his death is well known — his body was not allowed to be kept in the Congress office in New Delhi. When Mrs Gandhi talks about the need to repair institutions, she would be well advised to repair the institution that was the Congress in the past.
Yes, debates are very important in Parliament. The government had repeatedly offered to debate all the issues, ranging from the farm laws to price rise and from Covid to Pegasus.
However, papers were thrown at the Chair, members were blocked from speaking, Parliamentary staff and marshals were physically abused and documents were snatched from the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology when he was making a statement on the Pegasus issue. Many issues of national importance were not allowed to be raised. Congress members, along with MPs from other parties, climbed on the table in the Rajya Sabha and threw the rule book at the Chair and then publicly justified this. A forcible attempt was made throughout the Monsoon Session to disallow Parliament from functioning so that the government could be embarrassed.
Parliament is meant for debate, but legislative work is also important. Bills to strengthen the Juvenile Justice Act, protect small investors’ investments in the banks and undo retrospective tax were all important. If the Congress could participate in the debate on the OBC Bill, what prevented them from participating in debates over other Bills?
Mrs Gandhi has to answer for her party’s flip-flop on the fight against Covid. In the last session, there was a good debate in the Rajya Sabha. Why was this not allowed to happen in the Lok Sabha? The PM called the leaders of all the political parties for an extensive briefing on the fight against Covid. Why did the Congress boycott it? Is it not a fact that in the last one year, Rahul Gandhi has done his best to mock, oppose and derail the government’s efforts in the fight against Covid? When a “Made in India” vaccine is today being recognised as a global success story, did he not make fun of it? The PM personally visited the vaccine laboratories and inspired them to work harder. This shows leadership. Today, 55 crore Covid vaccine doses have been administered, an impressive figure as 25 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 12.
Mrs Gandhi talks of inclusive politics in her article. Then why did a party under her leadership oppose a Bill to ban triple talaq? I need to remind you, Soniaji, that in 1986, the Congress made dowry harassment a non-bailable offence (which was a good step) and in the same year reversed the Shah Bano judgment. It is vote bank and not inclusive policy that governs the Congress — be it about Shah Bano or Shayara Bano.
Today, initiatives like direct benefit transfer, Ujjwala Yojana, Digital India, Ayushman Bharat, digital payments etc, are empowering the common person. When 80 crore Indians are being given free rations without any religious bias, it shows sabka saath sabka vikas. Middlemen no longer play a role in the government’s decisions. The way the country’s safety and security has been assured and the way Jammu and Kashmir has seen the unfurling of the Tricolour in every corner shows a resurgent India under the leadership of PM Modi. Congress leaders had even questioned the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces during Uri and Balakot. Really, it is the Congress which is in urgent need of repair.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 17, 2021 under the title ‘It’s the Congress that needs repair’. The writer is member of Lok Sabha from BJP and a former union minister