Updated: June 15, 2022 8:29:47 am
It is not a birthday week that Rahul Gandhi, who turns 52 Saturday, would have preferred. Submitting himself to long hours of grilling by the Enforcement Directorate and taking time out to check on his mother who is in a hospital.
Like on Monday, on Tuesday, Day 2 of the ED’s questioning of Rahul in the National Herald case, several Congress leaders were detained for violating prohibitory orders outside the heavily barricaded party headquarters.
But for the Congress, demoralised after waves of election defeats and exodus by leaders, it is not a bad situation to be in. The Rahul groupies in the party are trying hard to rally the party behind him, injecting a sense of fighting spirit in the tired leadership and a listless cadre.
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But there are questions. Is Rahul’s summoning by the ED in a case of money laundering and the alleged witch hunt that the Congress sees in the action a pressing national issue at a time when the party should be agitating on issues affecting the common people? Will this stir and allegations of political vendetta find resonance with the people? After all, the party often accuses the BJP of using communal issues to divert attention from price rise, unemployment, border tension and the economy. And then there is the political minefield of bulldozer politics.
But then there is a counter question. Does the party have a choice? If it does not stand up when the government goes after the family and its leader, then when will it wake up? And what message will a silence send out to the cadre?
After all, the party had been accusing the BJP government of targeting Opposition leaders, misusing investigating agencies and indulging in political vendetta.
Moreover, it is easier to rally the party behind the family and get the leaders and the cadre on to the streets than on issues like, say, price rise. In the past, agitations on bread and butter issues announced by the party had ended up being mere rituals.
“The BJP moved heaven and earth to stop the arrest of small-time functionaries like Tajinder Singh Bagga. We should learn from them. After all, this is about Rahul and a paper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru. Why should we not protest and agitate?” says a senior Congress leader.
Said another leader, “If we don’t protest today, the government will be emboldened. Tomorrow, they may arrest Rahul. A signal has to go out that we will not take it lying down.”
But not everyone in the party agrees. On Monday, when the top leadership came out to protest, leaders of the G23 were missing. Many of them are not convinced about the idea of a public spectacle on an issue that is essentially personal in nature.
The sight of veterans such as Mallikarjun Kharge, P Chidambaram, Digvijaya Singh and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury out on the streets, jostling with the police, have no doubt charged the cadre. But the protest was essentially orchestrated.
A video clip tweeted by BJP’s Amit Malviya lampooned the leadership. It shows the veteran Digvijaya Singh walking into the 24, Akbar Road AICC headquarters and asking someone – “bhai, hazri kahan lagana hai…hazri andar hai… (where does one register attendance? Inside?).”
Then there is an internal dimension — of veterans not standing with Rahul in the past. Say, on the issue of Rafale or his “chowkidar chor hai” chant. But that was about tactics. This is about survival. And the leaders know it well.
It may not exactly be a redux of Indira Gandhi appearing before the Shah Commission after the Emergency. Or for that matter her arrest in 1977 on corruption charges. She had played the victim card to the hilt then, pushing the Janata government on to the defensive and reviving the Congress’s electoral fortunes.
But that was a different era. The situation is not even remotely similar. But, as many in the party think, what is the harm trying. After all, does the Congress have a choice?
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