You gotta win some elections Rahul Gandhi

RahulJournalist and political party hopper Shahid Siddiqui made me choke when he compared Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive posturing against the Modi government post his 2 month leave, to the return of Bruce Wayne to Gotham city after being trained by the League of Shadows to don the mask of the Dark Knight. Even beyond the stark differences between the fictional character and the Congress Vice President, the comparison is laughable. The most salient difference between the two which was evident in the media coverage of the last week is that the caped crusader’s brand of vigilante justice, was reluctantly accepted by the people of Gotham, who cast him as a villain at first. On the other hand Rahul’s return has been hailed as the ‘awakening’ of the Congress Vice-President, a transformation to a vocal Opposition to take on the Modi government. If there is any similarity, there is only one – after the emergence of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, the world erased the previous ‘underwhelming’ portrayals of the Dark Knight from memory. This week itself has shown that the media has willingly erased the last 10 years of Rahul Gandhi with the same effect. This is however natural considering the socio-political narratives we are used to in journalism. The new-found appeal surrounding Rahul Gandhi reflects our own liberal need to even clutch at straws in search for political alternatives. Rahul’s recent performances are nothing more than novelty given the last 10 years of him being a reluctant politician.

Rahul sleepingWhile the Congress is doing what every Opposition does, for the average voter the UPA regime is not yet a distant memory. The BJP can still mobilise their 2014 Lok Sabha campaign narratives with effect. Regarding the land bill issue, it is no mystery that the Congress is no messiah of the farmers. The issue of farmer suicides was a harrowing reality under UPA rule, and the Congress cannot effectively make it an issue of just the last one year. In fact, when the Congress accuses the BJP of being anti-farmer in their pro-development narrative – the party needs to only look to its own stalwarts to see a similar reflection. In 1948, Congress patriarch – Jawaharlal Nehru once delivered a speech at the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Hirakud dam over the Mahanadi river in Odisha – where he appealed to the displaced farmers saying,”If you have to suffer, you should do so in the interest of the country.” Nehru’s daughter and India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi echoed the same sentiments over the rehabilitation of farmers. Once in the 1980s, late social activist Baba Amte wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi expressing concerns over the submersion of 200,000 acres of forests and the rehabilitation of around 40,000 tribals in Central India due to the construction of two dams. Indira Gandhi replied to the letter saying that even though she was, “most unhappy that development projects displace tribal people from their habitat… sometimes there is no alternative and we have to go ahead in the larger interest.’

Cutting through the hype, all Rahul has been able to achieve is sharpen his political language, something which was key to Modi’s political campaign in 2014. With the situation of farmers in the nation, the Congress has found some level of traction with their narrative against the government – taking up the political space vacated by the Left and socialist parties. However, three days of speeches attacking the government, has not changed the political reality. The Prime Minister continues to be a bigger political icon.

If the Congress Vice President has truly revamped his image, his skills should be unleashed for elections to truly test his mettle. The political battlegrounds of Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are primed for elections – and the ‘new and improved’ Rahul should revive his party units to counter the conquering BJP and take on the regional players on their home turf. Rahul Gandhi will make me a believer in his new-found political acumen if under his leadership – the Congress party poses a significant challenge to the TMC in West Bengal, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Janata Parivar in Bihar, and most importantly – the BJP.

modi winModi retained Gujarat for several terms for the BJP. The Modi-Amit Shah combine delivered the BJP a major victory in the Lok Sabha polls, in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and made the BJP a stakeholder in the Jammu and Kashmir government for the first time in Independent India. This is where the Prime Minister’s strength lies. Rahul Gandhi cannot be proven a contender through token speeches in Parliament or rallies – he has to take on Modi on the election battlefield where the Prime Minister is a proven commander.

rahul electionsIf Rahul can make the BJP bleed in elections, I will begin to believe what Congress spokespersons, batting for him have been saying for the last 10 years. Yet, as the Congress Vice President gains momentum, I am sure all the leaders in his party are crossing their fingers, hoping their ‘Batman’ doesn’t disappear on them again.

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STOP CRYING WOLF!

Protest rally at PHQA church burned down in Delhi, a number of them vandalised, with some cases of theft, in different parts of the country, and a nun gang-raped in West Bengal. These are some of the many cases making headlines for the past few weeks, highlighting serious cases of crime demanding action from the government and police authorities.

If only it was just that straight-forward. Given that the BJP government is in power, the age old-narrative of communal tensions and ‘minorities under threat’ re-surfaced – even before investigations could begin. These cases have been nothing more than opportunities used by politicians, who are Opposition parties and even religious leaders – accusing the government of supporting ‘elements’ responsible for such crimes. The media at the same time has provided a stage for this shrill pantomime.

Let’s review some of the cases, where the police have reached some conclusions. When the St George Catholic church was vandalised in Navi Mumbai, the police arrested the accused and found that the mastermind ran a gambling den which got shut down by the police. He reportedly hatched the plan to vandalise the church as he thought its administration complained to the police. In the Nadia rape case, it was found that a gang from Bangladesh came and robbed the convent and gang-raped the Nun.

modi christainLet’s take the cases in Delhi. The burning of the St Sebastian church in Dilshad Garden and the Vasant Kunj burglary incident are currently under investigation. However, in the case of the Our Lady of Fatema Church in Jasola, where it was alleged that miscreants threw a stone during evening mass that damaged a window, it was found that children playing outside the Church were responsible for the damage. The incident in Rohini where a Christmas crib was charred, the police found that it was because of an electrical short circuit. After 3 were arrested for vandalising the Our Lady of Graces church in Vikaspuri by breaking a glass window, it was found that they were drunk and betted to see who could commit the act. The burglary at a Christian school in Vasant Vihar, was determined by the police and the Church to be a case of theft. Moreover, when Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi submitted a report to the Home Ministry – it was found that 206 temples, 30 Gurudwaras, 14 mosques and 3 churches were robbed in 2014. Moreover, according to the ‘Crime in Delhi: 2014’ report by the Special Commissioner of Police Taj Hassan, there has been no jump in burglaries and other crimes, but a “more diligent filing of reports” by complainants.

Clearly, these statistics do not warrant an overall law and order debate – as the ‘communal’ angle is far more newsworthy and more politically potent – fitting a narrative we have been used to for decades.

What’s more, the narrative is taking greater leaps. Most recently – the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi complained after the Chief Justice of India HL Dattu announced that the 3-day judges conference will begin on the 3rd of April on Good Friday. While the Church politicians re-iterated their apprehension with the ‘mood’ of intolerance in the country – the Chief Justice retorted that the same conference was held on Valmiki Day in 2004, Good Friday in 2007, and Independence day in 2009, highlighting that nobody raised any opposition back then. Dattu also stated that for him ‘work is worship’. Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve also added that it is a common practice for judges to conduct meetings and write judgements during all holidays, given the backlog in courts across the country. This is clearly a case of political overreach – as Church politicians have seen the traction their allegations have achieved in the news media and the public sphere.

Yet, this charge clearly does not play a dominant political role in dictating the BJP’s fortunes. If 2014 has taught the BJP and Narendra Modi anything, its that media narratives which extrapolate threat perceptions from events, do not work to deny political victory. The BJP has been on a roll despite the loud cries from all sections albeit in news studios and Parliament.

christian newIf anyone can be blamed for raising communal tensions, it is the Church politicians and opposition parties, who have raised a threat perception despite contrary facts. Communal politics just like religious ideology is a malleable commodity in the public space. The problem is that facts are re-modelled around theories and not theories around facts. But we do not live in the Dark Ages anymore. The words and claims of all politicians, be it religious or otherwise, are not gospel and are subject to intense scrutiny.