Talk of issues of public importance, do not threaten


Rahul Gandhi, during a meeting in Paris last week, had many strong words against those who, according to him, have “captured institutions” in the country. “A disease has entered the Indian institutional framework, where the neutrality of these institutions has gone out of the window. I think we will have to make examples of people. We will have to make sure that some of the people who have done what they have done, pay a significant price for what they have done… so that anyone who thinks about doing it again knows that they will also pay the price for attacking the soul of India,” he said. This was in keeping with the narrative that the Gandhi scion has been trying to spread at home and abroad, that India’s democracy is failing, that its institutions have been captured by a fascist government, that he is not allowed to speak in Parliament, that India is not a good place because BJP has spread kerosene and it just needed a spark for big trouble to erupt. In fact, just two years ago, Rahul Gandhi had complained to ex US Ambassador Nicholas Burns that because of the “wholesale capture of institutions” his party was not winning elections. It’s a different matter though that such “captured institutions” never posed a problem for the Congress to win either the Himachal Pradesh or the Karnataka Assembly elections. By now, at least Indians are used to Rahul Gandhi’s rhetoric, however non-serious it may make him appear to many of them. But the problem with the speech in Paris was the explicit threat he issued from a public platform, promising to make examples out of certain people. Such words of revenge and retribution are best avoided in a democracy, are best not uttered by any politician, and certainly not by those who have Prime Ministerial ambitions. Apart from being immature, there is more than a shade of witch-hunt underlining such sentiments.
Sadly, the blacklisted television anchors’ list issued by I.N.D.I.A. bloc partners last week gives out a similar vibe, but implicitly. The implication of naming and shaming—for that’s what it is—14 anchors, who the I.N.D.I.A. parties think are biased against them, is that these specific people must be punished with their parties’ absence. It’s also an indirect way of putting pressure on the owners of media houses to get rid of these anchors. In other words, they have to be muzzled. Also implicit is the threat that once they come to power, I.N.D.I.A. members will “make examples” out of these anchors. This is galling and makes a mockery out of claims that the Opposition stands for free speech and media freedom. The debate here is not about the quality of what these journalists offer to their audiences, it’s about supposedly mature political leaders, who aspire to rule the country, implying revenge and retribution against mere television anchors. No wonder, Nitish Kumar, who often acts as a weathervane, distanced himself from the list publicly and the Congress had to backtrack on Saturday by saying that they were not boycotting anyone, but were just practising non-cooperation like Mahatma Gandhi against those spreading hatred.
Now take what DMK dynast Udhayanidhi Stalin said about Sanatan Dharma—it must be eradicated as dengue and malaria. The threat of violence is explicit in this case, and if some hothead decides to act accordingly, then the issue becomes hugely problematic. The incendiary rhetoric left other I.N.D.I.A. partners squirming, opening them up to broadsides from the BJP. And now Congress leader Kamal Nath’s decision to cancel October’s I.N.D.I.A. rally in Bhopal, ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, is being directly linked to Stalin Junior’s hate speech. Congress cannot afford to appear anti Hindu in MP, and Kamal Nath’s Hindutva image crumbles if he is seen sharing the dais with either of the Stalins, father or son.
The obvious question is: what’s come upon the I.N.D.I.A. members? It’s almost as if they are bent on proving that hindsight is better than foresight. How can these leaders threaten violence or promise to make examples out of people? No politician in a mature democracy can be so desperate that he or she can issue such threats—any threats. The need of the hour is talking about matters of public importance, promising to solve problems, not of teaching lessons to anyone.