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Rahul Gandhi’s comments on the state of India’s democracy
17 Mar, 2023
(Illustrations: Saurabh Singh)
As has been the case in the past, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s visits to the West invariably result in controversy. This time, while in the UK, Rahul’s comments on the state of India’s democracy led to a change of roles between government and opposition when the Budget session of Parliament resumed. Instead of the usual sight of opposition parties forcing adjournments, BJP leaders led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh demanded an apology from Rahul for insulting India abroad. This meant the opposition could not quite pick up the threads of its attack over the Adani investments controversy or other issues like inflation. On the defensive, Congress sought to hit back, questioning the government’s record on democratic rights but other opposition parties were not so enthused about the Gandhi scion. For his party, the most problematic part of Rahul’s remarks was his suggestion that the West must consider what it wants to do about India’s alleged democratic decline since such a development would have repercussions across the planet. This was read as Congress’ rising vexation over the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is feted by world leaders despite negative narratives. The larger challenge for Congress is that while Rahul’s unfiltered commentary pleases a small echo chamber, it is largely preaching to a converted flock. The results of the recent Nagaland polls are particularly instructive as the veto sought to be imposed by a section of the church failed to hurt BJP while Congress continued to languish in the shallows.
Politics, as the idiom goes, is the art of the possible. Few parties take that maxim to heart quite like NCP. Sharad Pawar may be at odds with BJP in Maharashtra. But it hasn’t come in the way of extending support to the National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP)-BJP government in Nagaland. Pawar justified the move by claiming Nagaland is a vulnerable state and NCP is supporting NDPP, not BJP. This wouldn’t have convinced his allies back in Maharashtra. A few years ago, when BJP fell short of majority in the 2014 state elections by a few seats and ally Shiv Sena was believed to have been bargaining hard for a better deal, it was NCP that had rescued BJP. The party declared unconditional outside support, arguing the state could not afford a hung House. There are even those, such as current Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who claim that his attempt to form a government with Ajit Pawar in 2019 had Sharad Pawar’s support. The NCP supremo, many believe, can play a role in bringing together opposition parties. But, as his allies will probably be asking, does the Maratha leader have more than one script?
Fixing The Hills
The exact causes of the Joshimath land subsidence are still being investigated, with the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) denying that its Tapovan-Vishnugarh project was connected to the land slippages. NTPC has said that the barrage for the project is 15km upstream from Joshimath and its tunnel does not pass under the town while also being more than one kilometre below the surface. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is carefully collecting reports and information to deduce the immediate and long-term causes and the impact of Joshinath’s ‘sinking’. The government is studying the demands of various groups, including local residents of various towns in Uttarakhand, that norms must limit the height of buildings and make features like rainwater harvesting mandatory. There is growing concern about the load of construction activities on fragile hillsides as also the tardy pace of afforestation. The state government remains wary of curbs that may impact tourism or create red tape that is likely to lead to corruption at the lower levels. The PMO report is expected to be ready soon.
BSY As BJP Strategist
The election campaign in Karnataka is increasingly becoming the focus of top BJP leaders and a part of their efforts is directed at getting the party unit in the state to work in a coordinated manner. As the prominence accorded to veteran leader BS Yediyurappa during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to Karnataka shows, he will play a key role in balancing caste equations and working out strategies at the constituency level. The state government’s push for economic development and its ambitious plans are part of BJP’s promises to develop Karnataka but the nuts and bolts of the campaign are going to be overseen by Union Home Minister Amit Shah who is no stranger to the state. The frequency of Shah’s visits has increased even as new projects like the impressive Bengaluru-Mysuru highway that reduces travel time to 75 minutes from more than two hours are being unveiled. Key projects like drinking water supply for Bengaluru are high on the state government’s priorities.
With signs that the stock market has survived the Hindenburg report on the Adani Group, there is relief among ordinary retail investors who put their savings in stocks as well as the government which had apprehended that questions raised about the exposure of the State Bank of India (SBI) and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), two of India’s premier financial institutions, to the Adani businesses were an attempt to create instability in the financial sector. In information provided to Parliament, the government said that LIC’s holdings in the Adani Group had actually declined and the market regulator’s inquiry was on. It now remains to be seen whether the committee set up by the Supreme Court will take note of SEBI’s findings or proceed on its own. There are so many aspects to the Hindenburg report, including foreign links that are challenging to track and trace, that the committee may find itself on a fishing expedition. It may have to focus its efforts to avoid the fate of a Supreme Court-ordered inquiry into the Pegasus spyware controversy where only a handful of individuals gave their phones for forensic examination, turning the issue, which once agitated political circles and the media, into a big yawn.
Defying the Stereotype
At a recent media interaction, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh said there has been a significant increase in young persons attending shakhas or regular meetings of the organisation. Interest in RSS has risen since the Modi government assumed office in 2014 but thereafter some changes, such as the modernisation of Sangh attire with baggy khaki shorts replaced by trousers in 2016, have helped attract new entrants. ‘RSS trousers’ are available on various private online marts. RSS leaders have also reported increasing recruitment from modern or emerging sectors like information technology-related fields even as they emphasised the centrality of the shakha system to the organisation. It would appear that a perceived uptick in ‘nationalist’ sentiment is drawing more recruits, including younger ones, to the organisation that makes no bones about its affiliation to the nationalist cause and Hindu cultural identity.
New Tales From Old Bihar
Things have come full circle in Bihar. At one point of time, JD(U) leaders would cite their inability to put up with corruption charges levelled against RJD leaders as an important reason why the two parties could not be allies. Now, with JD(U) having broken its alliance with BJP to hitch up with RJD again, the argument has changed. JD(U) leaders are now echoing other opposition parties facing the heat from anti-corruption investigations to say that the recent questioning of the Lalu Prasad family is a result of the changed political equations in the state. The land-for-jobs scam dates to Lalu’s tenure as railway minister when he was regularly toasted for reforms, with reports that Harvard was going to study the “Indian Railways model”.
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