Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, or “custodian” of the party as his colleagues call him, made most of his allotted time in the Lok Sabha on February 2… or so his supporters say. Whatever the case, it has left tall leaders of the grand old party and reputed left-of-centre media houses defending the indefensible once again.
‘If Rahul Gandhi Were Really Irrelevant, the BJP Wouldn’t Need to Attack Him So’ stated the headline of an opinion piece published by The Wire yesterday, which talks about how the top Congress leader is being trolled and labelled as ‘anti-national’, “because he did exactly what BJP strategists don’t want him to – turn the heat on the Modi government and the party ruling the country since 2014 whenever he wishes by asking hard questions that are also lingering in the public’s mind, and be widely noticed for doing so.” This was also the general reaction across social media and among the Congress party leaders and supporters. The article alleges that BJP members and loyalists have attacked him “guns blazing – but with sentiment, not fact.” But did Rahul Gandhi present any credible facts to begin with?
The ‘Untethered’ Lok Sabha Speech
While speaking during the debate on the Motion of Thanks on President Ram Nath Kovind’s address, Rahul Gandhi said, “There are now two Indias – one for the poor and one for the rich. The chasm between these two Indias is increasing continuously… There is a 46% drop in manufacturing jobs in India, why? Because you have destroyed the unorganised sector, you have destroyed the MSMEs, you are completely focused on 5-10 people… The ‘AA’ (Ambani Adani) variant is spreading across the Indian economy. I don’t have a problem with big industries, focus on them but please realise that they cannot produce jobs for you. Small and medium industries are the only ones which can produce jobs in the country.”
The Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) created 75,000 jobs and hired more than 50,000 freshers during 2020-21 alone, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its most volatile. RIL is also scheduled to invest Rs 5.95 lakh crores in Gujarat over the next 10-15 years for setting up 100 GW Renewable Energy Power Plant and Green Hydrogen Eco-System development, creating 10 lakh direct and indirect jobs. “RIL will develop an eco-system for assisting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and encourage entrepreneurs to embrace new technologies and innovations leading to captive use of Renewable Energy and Green Hydrogen,” reported the Indian Express on January 13, 2022.
“Government is ready to subsidise manufacture of $10 billion for manufacturing of chips. There is a lot of strategic thinking in this government. I think growth is a most important thing for the long-term benefit of everyone in India — poor or rich,” said billionaire business magnate Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. The unemployment rate had been on a slow but steady decline since 2014, from 5.6 percent in the year when the BJP administration first came into power, to 5.27 percent in 2019. After the pandemic hit, India registered an unemployment rate of 7.11 percent in 2020. COVID had its own impact on people. But it also had an impact on the sovereign government of India that ensured free vaccinations for all.
Gandhi had it right with the 46 percent statistic for the manufacturing jobs lost. But he failed to communicate its source, or in illustrating its significance. Using its time-series data of sector-wise employment, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed that the manufacturing sector employed only 27.3 million people during 2020-21, as compared to the 51 million in 2016-17, registering a 46 percent decline. This was the second big decline seen by the sector after 2017-18, when the after-effects of demonetisation started showing.
Speaking about the Pegasus row, and the New York Times article which shed fresh light on the India-Israel 2017 defence deal, of which the spyware was allegedly an integral part, Rahul said, “When PM Modi is personally going to Israel and authorising Pegasus, he is attacking the people of Tamil Nadu, he is attacking the people of Assam… My great grandfather was jailed for 15 years. My grandmother was shot 32 times. My father was blown to bits. So I know what I am talking about. You are fiddling with something very, very dangerous. I am advising you to stop. If you don’t stop you will create a problem… I know something about the idea of India because blood has been sacrificed for this country not by me but by my family members.”
Rahul Gandhi Is Not Irrelevant
Rahul Gandhi is the most important leader of the grand old party today, after Sonia Gandhi. He represents a party that led India to freedom from the British Raj (even if the way it did and certain decisions it took can be debated, this fact cannot). Currently, he represents a party that is responsible for holding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government accountable. Rahul Gandhi is not irrelevant. But perhaps that is the problem.
The opposition has been demanding a platform in the Parliament to voice its concerns since the Monsoon Session of the Parliament last year, with several walkouts demonstrated by the parties and screaming matches led by Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha – Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. This continued during the Winter Session as well. After the NYT article was published on January 28, two days before the Budget Session commenced on February 1, there was widespread speculation that Pegasus will be at the core of the opposition’s talking points, after it exhausted itself on the farm laws last year. It is right to do so because it is a serious issue, and not something a democratic civil society can take lightly. Access to ‘military-grade encrypted channels of communication’ and a lack of transparency about it from the government, with a possible attempt at hiding it, is a frightening indicator of the route this government could take. Even an attempt to target journalists, opposition leaders, and activists with surveillance technology is not a marker of a democracy. History’s most notable dictators have had their fair share of proficient dealings with the art of surveillance. As the face of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi failed to make any impact in creating pressure on this government to provide answers, weakening the democratic fabric of the country once again. In trying to establish his image in the shadows of the tragedies faced by his family members who made sizeable contributions (their policies and their merit are a different issue) in taking India forward, he exposed himself to ridicule once again, leaving senior party members to pick up the pieces.
“This confused ideology, confused understanding of nation of India is playing havoc with this country. For example, the Judiciary, the Election Commission, Pegasus, these are all instruments of destroying the voice of union of states,”said RaGa in the Lok Sabha, leaving himself vulnerable to be held in contempt of court. Moreover, the allegation is baseless. “The considerations for usage of such alleged technology, ought to be evidence based. In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed except with sufficient statutory safeguards, by following the procedure established by law under the Constitution,” read the October 27 Supreme Court order last year, which also directed the formation of an expert technical committee overseen by a retired SC judge.
The order read: “It is undeniable that surveillance and the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on can affect the way an individual decides to exercise his or her rights. Such a scenario might result in self-censorship. This is of particular concern when it relates to the freedom of the press, which is an important pillar of democracy. Such chilling effect on the freedom of speech is an assault on the vital public-watchdog role of the press, which may undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information.”
The apex court had said that the Centre “may decline” to share information in certain situations such as when it is a question of national security. “However, this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time the spectre of “national security” is raised. National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning,” it had added.
“Ask yourself why you are not able to get a guest on Republic Day. India today is completely isolated and surrounded,” said Rahul Gandhi on the state of international affairs. The events of the COVID pandemic seem to have skipped his speech. Moreover, India is possibly the only the country that the US has not been able to put sanctions on despite the close relationship it enjoys with Russia. India enjoys the most cordial relationship with Central Asian nations in its history, is a leading force in the conversation on Afghanistan, and is a key member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that aims to rally against China and maintain a free-functioning Indo-Pacific region.
RaGa further said, “The Chinese have a very clear vision of what they want to do… The single biggest strategic goal of India’s foreign policy is to keep Pakistan and China separate and you brought them closer. Do not underestimate the force, the power that stands before us. This is the single biggest crime against the people of India.” India has historically exercised the ‘no first use’ policy, throughout all Congress administrations and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Barring the 1962 Sino-Indian War, India has always managed to protect its borders and its people, while also helping liberate another country in 1971. As the attacks have intensified on its borders with each passing year, India has not only managed to maintain its strategic positions but also fight back, avenge and silence the belligerent forces emerging from these countries. Rahul also said, “We have made huge strategic mistakes in J&K.” January 26, 2022, was the first Republic Day since the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 (if not before), when the Indian national flag was unfurled at the watch tower in Lal Chowk, Srinagar.
The White House, in a statement on February 3, distanced itself from Rahul Gandhi’s comments on Pakistan and China, and said that it was up to the respective countries to react. While it can be argued that the US needs to mind its business and not concern itself with India’s internal discussions, it is notable that it felt the need to state its reservation.
The tide will eventually turn, as it always does in a politically charged and conscious society such as India. But do we want it to turn in the favour of the prodigal ‘Nehru-Gandhi scion’ who can’t seem to gauge the significance of his own role?
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.