Selling Dreams – Modi, Rahul Way

By Malladi Rama Rao

A 15- minute debate is what Congress President Rahul Gandhi wants to have with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Why 15-minutes? Why not 25 minutes or 30 minutes? He has not explained why he has hit upon the 15- minute slot. It is his calling. But why is he daring the Prime Minister of the day for a debate? Obviously, he considers himself as the only rightful challenger to Modi, who, he says, is “crushing Supreme Court”, “has shut Parliament” and “is only interested in being the PM, not about attacks on women or Dalits”. He is convinced or made to be convinced by his acolytes that he is better equipped than what his critics think of him in taking on single-handedly the Modi demon. No problem. Everyone is an Alnaskar and there is no dearth of Alnaskars in India.

Frankly, there is nothing new in Rahul’s challenge, which he had thrown up while launching in New Delhi on 23 April his year-long ‘Save the Constitution’ campaign. Narendra Modi is no stranger to such challenges either; he himself had dared the Prime Minister of the day in 2014 for an open debate. His one-time mentor, Lal Krishna Advani, Lalji to admirers, and to the dwindling number of followers, too had asked, during his time, Manmohan Singh or whoever was willing and ready in the GOP to join him in a live-TV debate. Both offers were greeted by deafening silence. Like Rahul’s call now. Between Modi and Rahul, who is a better debater or orator is not the issue here. The issue is: Should we copy the American practice of televised debates by Presidential candidates locked in the race to the White House?

For quite a while, we have reduced governance in the country – at the federal level and also at the provincial level to one –man (woman) show. The regional parties – which are family driven are as much responsible for this development as the Grand Old Party (GOP), which had ruled the country since Independence though with some brief interruptions. Indira Gandhi had even toyed with the idea of a formal switch to Presidential form of government. Why she had left the exercise undone is a different issue altogether. Her grandson is determined to accomplish that mission, if we go by his tweet- a- day asking answers from the Prime Minister for everything that is wrong with today’s India.

“Why are you not speaking up Prime Minister” – is the taunt that goes out from Rahul’s twitter handle the moment his backroom boys and girls are woken up by the Breaking News on the LCD TV screen. A rape in Kathua or Unnao, an atrocity on Dalits, a farmer’s suicide, water shortage in a Delhi mohalla, a tragedy in faraway Assam – the list is long; for them no issue is untouchable. Even a Modi advisory to the pracharak – lawmakers on “no masala” to the media becomes an open attempt to gag the BJP netas!

What matters to Rahulites is the potential to hit at the man reeling with self-inflicted wounds. Will the issue get resolved if PM Modi speaks up, issues a statement condemning the atrocity? This thought does not appear to cross their mind. The scion of the Nehru-Indira dynasty wants an answer – nothing short of an instant nirvana for the country from the ills plaguing it under the Modi dispensation. The 48-year-old young man is the self-anointed Angry Young Man of Indian politics today.

Rahul Gandhi is not alone in demanding accountability of the Prime Minister. He has good company in Arvind Kejriwal, the muffler-man, who goes around as the anarchist on the prowl. There is one big difference between them. AK has slowed down post- Punjab and Delhi poll reverses; RG has smelt blood after Gujarat and Gorakhpur. Mayawati, Mamata and Yechury are giving them company. There is something else common to them. All are regional satraps – well Rahul and Yechury too though they operate from sprawling Bhavans in the nation’s capital. CPI-M has not grown beyond its three backyards – Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. Elsewhere in the country, it depends on the local winning horses for making a mark. Congress is in no different position today; its footprint is limited to Punjab, Puducherry, Mizoram, and, of course, Karnataka where it may be forced to knock at the doors of the Humble Farmer, Deve Gowda, for survival with a photo-finish forecast in the May election.

Modi’s BJP is no national party either. The Hindu Hrudaya Samrat has helped the party to extend its sway to a large swath of the country. So what? There is no change in its core complexion. Like in all regional parties, in the BJP too, leaders take the cue to speak up only when the Boss speaks up. His Man Ki Bath should have set the national agenda for good governance. It has not. Reason? The absence of good governance at the ground level. Also the lack of transparency and punctured invincibility myth. The free run the saffron shirts have been enjoying to the dismay of blue shirts and red and white caps has devalued the much talked about Moditva.

Modi has to carry the cross for the distortions in the parliamentary system – not Rahuls, Arvinds and Mamatas alone. They are only giving currency to Modiism and are trying to cash-in on Modiism. They are the distorted versions of Moditva. This is the harsh reality of India under NDA-II as the Modi-raj entered the slog overs of its rule. Rhetoric is good but it is no substitute for dialogue, which appears to have been consigned to Naimi??ra?ya (Naimisha Forest) on the banks of River Gomti, where the pantheon of 33 Hindu Gods and Goddesses are said to reside.

People are fed up with promises and speeches and doles and dreams. They want action. Not fights. Not fake angry bouts. Delivery is what the aspirational Indian wants today. Modi has still time to correct his stride. Will he before others catch up? Or will he slog along merrily in the belief that Rahul’s race for 7 RCR is stymied by the strides of Mamata and Mayawati? Politics is a funny game. And looking beyond the nose is not the art of Indian politicians. Amen!

( This article appeared in Power Politics, May 2018)

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst