There are many reasons why Narendra Modi’s image has taken a beating since that long ago ‘Howdy Modi’ moment. But, despite the protests across India in recent weeks that have so severely damaged the Prime Minister’s image internationally, there is one reason why he continues to be India’s most credible leader. That reason is Rahul Gandhi.
He has been missing in action for a while but returned recently to declare that the new citizenship law was going to be worse than demonetisation because the ‘money that will be made will go to Modi’s fifteen friends’. It was only a snippet of a video that circulated virally on social media, but it was long enough to remind every viewer of an important reason why Modi won a second term.
I watched the video more than once to try and understand why the heir to our most powerful political dynasty believes that this is ‘note bandi number 2’, but was utterly mystified by his analysis. Neither have I managed to fathom why his political advisors have not told the former (and probably future) president of the Congress party that, in this case, it is the people’s money being squandered on a terrible idea that is the problem. Rahul also needs to be urgently told that he has to stop repeating the tired old charges of corruption that he has been flinging at Modi and ‘his fifteen friends’ for more than six years. They did not stick then and they do not stick now. Someone needs to explain to him that if people are protesting angrily against the citizenship law, it is because it is discriminatory. Something much more important is at stake and it is this that Modi’s principal opponent should be talking about. For the moment the best thing Rahul can do is listen carefully to what the protesters have been saying.
There is underway across India the first serious revolt against the Modi government’s policies. It is being led by young people who use the Indian Constitution as the symbol of their protest and who sing the national anthem at public gatherings to ensure that nobody charges them with being ‘urban Naxals’ or ‘anti-national’. These protests have been so effective that the Prime Minister has deployed a small army of ministers, party spokesmen and friendly journalists to try and change the narrative. They have been ineffectual because his closest political comrades, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, spend their time adding fuel to the fire. Modi himself did not exactly cover himself with glory last week when he declared that the Congress party seemed to hate India’s Parliament more than it hates Pakistan.
He will however remain unchallenged as long as his main rival on the political stage is Indira Gandhi’s grandson. This is unfortunate. A real opposition leader is needed if the outpouring of anger and violence that we have seen is to be channeled towards saving political ideas that must be saved. Much has gone wrong. The Kashmir Valley remains in almost complete lockdown and now the same stories about police brutality against children that came from there are beginning to come from Uttar Pradesh. What is going on? Why is the Prime Minister not ordering his handpicked Chief Minister to do more to calm public anger instead of fuelling it with his threats?
Uttar Pradesh has seen the largest number of protests against the changes in the citizenship law because it has a huge Muslim population and Muslims have understandably been in the forefront of the protests. But, instead of trying to calm people’s fears and their anger, Yogi Adityanath has taken to seizing people’s properties and allowing his police a free hand. He has an allergy to dissent that is quite frightening. He has made it clear that he will crush all signs of it. So he has allowed his police force to use maximum force and, if reports are accurate, to torture women and children in order to stop the protests.
The other dynasty heir, Priyanka, has gone many times to show solidarity with families who have been victims of the Yogi government’s police, and this is good. But, she would have looked more credible had she not made that childish drama about being ‘strangled’ by a woman police officer in full view of a large crowd of protesters. There is a sense of entitlement that the heirs to the dynasty exhibit that makes both of them a liability for the Congress. It must start looking for a new leader. A leader who will stand up for the values that the party professes to still believe in. These are the values of liberalism, democracy and the right to dissent. Values that are more important today than ever because Modi and his cohorts have made it plain that these ‘foreign’ ideas need to be crushed.
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