Delhi was left to burn, again. The Delhi Police is alleged to have not taken 13,200 calls over four days, but it reportedly helped stone pelters aiming at Muslims and their homes and businesses — and sometimes it remembered to destroy CCTV cameras. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, who has been absolved of responding to questions about responsibility for the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 because he was too young at that time, will turn 50 this year. He lives in Central Delhi, geographically not far from either the peaceful protests in Shaheen Bagh or the recent carnage in Northeast Delhi. He has not been seen. Is this because he is no longer the Congress president? Is this his way of signaling that if he were appointed president, he might have lifted a finger or joined a candlelight protest in India Gate?
Speaking to IIM alumna in Singapore less than two years ago, Rahul Gandhi had said, “In politics, when you mess with the wrong forces, and if you stand for something, you will die”. Is that why he did not step into the murder-filled streets of Northeast Delhi last week? Was he afraid for his life without his SPG security? But he still has Z plus security. To students at the London School of Economics, Rahul Gandhi had declared, “I am against any sort of violence against anybody on this planet”. How about Delhi then? Is it still a part of this planet? Jamia? JNU? Gargi College? Or does he think that by doing nothing at all, he is still better than the photo-opportunist Arvind Kejriwal and the still-missing Amit Shah, who is directly responsible for the law and order situation in the capital of the country? What’s the game plan? That the economy will crash, and the Congress will inevitably be re-elected after everyone has had their fill of Modi-Shah?
But there are always other alternatives. There is no certainty in politics as he, who contested from Wayanad last May, well knows. For instance, there’s fellow Gemini, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, two years younger than Rahul, with an equally good record at wrecking the electoral chances of those for whom he campaigns. There’s the even younger political consultant Prashant Kishor who manages the balancing trick with greater authenticity than most. There are others chafing at the bit, like Sachin Pilot (only 42) who might just break away from the Congress if they don’t get a taste of real power.
Besides, and more importantly, where is the political glue that will keep India from disintegrating into a Hindi-belt dominated Hindu rashtra? What’s in it for the states in the Northeast or the South? Will the working out of the Citizenship Amendment Act spell the end of the reality of India as a sovereign, political unit? What did home minister Amit Shah mean, when he said on the floor of the Lok Sabha, that the Modi government would undo the wrong committed by the Liaquat-Nehru pact of 1950? That pact was meant to provide protection to the newly created religious minorities of both India and Pakistan. Both PMs promised to ensure protection to minorities in their countries.
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Will the party that won India her freedom twiddle its thumbs while the BJP’s politics lead to Muslims’ leaving mixed neighbourhoods newly rendered unsafe, in the heart of the capital city of the country?
There are good reasons why most pundit aren’t interested in the subject — the albatross that is Rahul Gandhi. A writer once told me that in publishing, you only get one chance and so, one should put one’s best manuscript forward. But in the real world, people like Rahul Gandhi get many chances — to organise election campaign after campaign, to fail and be given second, third, and many more chances. In a country where sincerity among politicians is in extremely short supply, Rahul seemed to have it, especially in the last few weeks of the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign when he finally came into his own in election rallies and interviews. Yet, the Congress’ well-intentioned schemes such as NYAY remained completely unknown to voters to whom it would have made a difference. The consequences of the Congress’ electoral incompetence and the BJPs smooth election machine are all around us to see.
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May 2024 is merely 48 months away. Will the albatross decide, one way or the other? If he truly does not want to bar the entry of others to leadership positions in the Congress or a UPA-3, he should make way by perhaps, moving to Wayanad. If Sonia Gandhi, who once led the National Advisory Council to introduce key pieces of legislation such as the NREGA and the Right to Information, wishes to leave a legacy that is not the moribund Congress of today, she will have to stop being the typical Indian mother who sees no fault in her son. Let him who has had many, many chances to know his calling go, or decide to lead with courage and conviction. There simply isn’t any time to waste.
The recent violence in Delhi and the hate speech that preceded it suggest that the BJP wishes to further polarise Indian society in the hope that it will eventually reap electoral dividends. Either the Congress and its allies come up with an all-India game plan or they can collectively bid adieu to the map of India as we recognise it today.
Also read | P B Mehta on Delhi violence: Our rulers want an India that thrives on cruelty, fear, division, violence
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 3, 2020 under the title ‘Missing Rahul in Delhi’. The writer is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia and Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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