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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Mar 2023  Anand K. Sahay | Rahul’s expulsion from LS: Is India at a turning point?

Anand K. Sahay | Rahul’s expulsion from LS: Is India at a turning point?

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : Mar 27, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Mar 27, 2023, 12:05 am IST

The processes that have been adopted can be checkmated only through stout resistance by society and a show of statesmanship

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi speaks during a meeting as part of his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Jammu. (File Photo: AP)
 Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi speaks during a meeting as part of his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Jammu. (File Photo: AP)

The conviction of Rahul Gandhi on the flimsiest of charges by a Gujarat trial court, and within 24 hours, as if it was on steroids, the Lok Sabha secretariat notifying his disqualification as an MP, are a natural denouement to the larger political tragedy that has unfolded under the current government.

The processes that have been adopted can be checkmated only through stout resistance by society and a show of statesmanship by the political leadership. The survival of the system we have nurtured since Independence could be at stake.

Nobody can seriously believe that crystal waters of justice have flowed uninterrupted in the defamation trial against Mr Gandhi in which matters were hurriedly got over after lying somnolent for four years in the course of which the complainant, a Gujarat BJP MLA, had sought a stay from the high court over his own complaint.

For a start, it needs to be remembered that Mr Gandhi had not posed the “Modi” question -- which was at the heart of the so-called trial -- out of season. There was a definite context. As such, there was no question of being derogatory towards a community. Fearing action after high order corruption, under the nose of the government, two men with the Modi name had fled the country. They had not filed for defamation, which is specific to individuals, not groups.

An altogether different Modi, the Gujarat MLA who had nothing to do with the matter, went to court, spuriously claiming that his community’s name had been besmirched. If the defamation law is made applicable to entire communities, then the Who’s Who of the BJP will be on trial, without exception.

Leaving aside legality, for the matter is deeply disturbing and compellingly political as it causes long-term injury to our diminishing democracy, the most striking feature of the current phase is unbridled repression let loose on Opposition leaders and dissenters of every description. In monstrous contrast is the rewarding with high-profile positions of corrupt politicians who swelled the ranks of the ruling party to bypass investigation. The list is long, but the government experiences no shame and exhibits deep self-love.

What’s happening is instructive. Bearing menace, the Delhi police visits Mr Gandhi’s residence to question him on his remark that during the Bharat Jodo Yatra some women complained to him about being sexually assaulted.

Was questioning at all called for? The signalling was that the State can do as it pleases even with significant Opposition figures.

At Delhi airport, a senior Congress spokesman gets yanked off the plane by the Assam police, gangster fashion, for poking fun at the PM on the Adani affair. In Parliament, the address system is switched off for the entire Opposition for demanding an investigation in the Adani case. In the nation’s capital, scores of FIRs are registered by the police for posters demanding the end of Modi rule, recalling events in Beijing and Hong Kong.

Even the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman have found it expedient to drop constitutional restraint and go at an Opposition leader -- Mr Gandhi. The law minister has called retired judges “anti-national” and rudely questioned the Chief Justice on the system of the appointment of judges. What’s happening? Are we on the way to becoming an armoured-car democracy?

It is certainly a question of democratic morality, if not also of law, whether the highest court in the land should not take suo motu notice of the disgraceful goings-on. If the State seeks to make itself all-powerful through coercion of its citizens, their political representatives, civil society groups, the media, and state institutions, then it is on the way to subverting its present form and essentiality while pretences are kept up through outright propaganda.

The Supreme Court’s apparent lack of alacrity to step in when disturbing political and constitutional questions have arisen lead to anxiety. The Rahul Gandhi question will again test the Supreme Court because the issue is basic: Who is really on trial: Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi?

When Mr Gandhi came to the Lok Sabha after his 4,000-km march spread over many months, raising matters of urgent public concern before adulating crowds wherever he went, the government turned nervous. Hackles were raised when the Congress leader went on to fire leading questions about billionaire Gautam Adani’s presumed proximity to the leader of the government in the wake of the Hindenburg report.

The Speaker had the core of the Opposition leader’s speech deleted from the records. Suddenly, in India, we find we cannot criticise the PM. The treasury benches complained Mr Gandhi had insulted the PM.

This was bogus but the Speaker fell into the trap of allowing a privilege motion against the Congress leader and the question came down to whether he would be suspended or expelled from Parliament.

Subsequently, when Mr Gandhi criticised the Modi government from forums in Britain, in a carpet-bombing campaign led by the PM himself, the BJP sought to project the criticism of the government as “anti-national” activity. The ruling party has since then paralysed Parliament. It wants Mr Gandhi to apologise for airing “anti-national” views.

The apology demand, although unheard of in a modern democracy, is now redundant. Mr Gandhi has been ejected from the House and may be jailed.

Objective achieved. In the end it has boiled down to the billionaire Adani to whose fate the PM appears to have recklessly tied himself. All he had to do was concede the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the questions raised about the Adani business empire since these have brought up serious doubts about the functioning of India’s financial system. But any critical discussion of the Adani question is taboo. At a recent “conclave” by a media house, leading lights of the government spoke, the PM was “interviewed”, but no question was raised on the Adani crisis. Discussion of the subject is shut out in Parliament and the media.

As a diversionary ploy, the government chose to try pummel and destroy Rahul Gandhi for his comments made overseas. Is this planned as its new Pulwama – an effort to turn the debate around to prepare for the next election? Or, is it staring at its Waterloo?

In 1920s’ Italy, Communist leader and famed European political thinker Antonio Gramsci was permitted to speak in Parliament only once. In spite of parliamentary immunity, on a trumped-up charge he was thrown into jail by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s regime. The prosecutor had said at the trial: “For 20 years we must stop this brain from functioning.” The Congress has been at its weakest in decades and yet its outspoken leader and critic of Mr Modi seems to have brought the ruling establishment to a turning point.

Tags: rahul gandhi, lok sabha membership, adani, congress party, gujarat