Smriti Irani is the Master (or is it “Mistress”?) of the Trivial. Her rebuttal of Rahul Gandhi’s speech and Q&A at Berkeley was confined to personal abuse (of the person who had thrashed her in the last elections) and jibes at a handful of phrases used by RG, while completely bypassing the substance of what he had to say at the University.
She began her rebuttal by pointing to her great discovery that Rahul’s mother was leading the UPA in 2012, the year in which Rahul had said, in answer to a question, he thought the Congress had started getting distanced from the people and its “arrogance” began coming in the way of seeing how far the party had drifted from the support and affection of the electorate.
Since Smriti Irani cannot remember the year she allegedly got her degree, she perhaps thinks Rahul can’t remember who was running the party in 2012. She totally failed to see the courage it takes for a young leader to admit the shortcomings of the organization he belongs to and to lay the blame effectively at the door of his own mother, not because she is his mother but because she was (and remains) the fulcrum of the party’s leadership. It is frankness of this order, affirmations that arise above narrow family loyalties, and apologies for the riots of 1984 that followed in the wake of his father becoming PM, that show Rahul and his party at their democratic best – and set the Congress apart from the BJP.
For, in that fascist set-up, the least criticism of Modi or his partner, Amit Shah, leads to immediate condign punishment. Not one word of criticism is allowed in the Sangh Parivar of ideological ancestors like Savarkar, Hegdewar, Golwalkar or Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Sneering is permitted only at Vajpayee – because Atalji reminded Modi of his “raj dharma” following the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. Will Modi ever go beyond his “puppy dog” remark to apologize for what happened under his watch even as Rahul has sincerely apologized in Berkley?
If Smriti Irani were to undertake the least introspection, the least self-criticism, she would find herself out on her ear within seconds. The feudal obeisance displayed by Irani and her ilk has no place in Congress politics. Disputes between Gandhi and Nehru, Gandhi and Bose, Gandhi and his “samandhi” C Rajagopalachari, were out in the open. Indeed, the most well-known example of an internal struggle in the Congress was the ideological and political battle that broke out between Father and Son – Motilal and Jawaharlal – in 1927-28 over the Nehru report that sought “dominion status” where the fiery young Jawaharlal (not quite forty then) insisted on “Purna Swaraj”. If there was any implied criticism of his mother in Rahul pointing to 2012 as the inflection point in the party’s decline, it was fully in line with a family tradition that encourages the next generation to speak out without fear or favour.
The cloak-and-dagger nature of disputation within the Sangh Parivar (ask Govindachari) have no place in the Congress tradition. Had Rahul pulled his punches merely because it might reflect adversely on his mother, one could, with justification, accuse RG of letting private sentiment outweigh public purpose. Contrast this with Irani, like a besotted teenager, endlessly singing paeans of praise to her larger-than-life “Har Har Modi”.
She then made much of Rahul being a “dynast”. Well, if Modi had no role in taking birth “in a poor family in a village in Gujarat”, as Irani boasted, well, neither could Rahul help being born into a prominent political family. Did Rahul make that a reason for denying the legitimacy of Modi having risen to PM through the democratic process? Not at all. He described Modi as “my Prime Minister”. It is not Modi’s origins but his performance as PM that constituted the substantial part of Rahul’s address.
Moreover, Rahul responded to a question provoked by an army of BJP trolls who have made it their 24-hour business to cast doubt on Rahul’s willingness to accept high office. He said he was ready to do so. But he also made it clear that he could aspire to that office only if his party were to offer him the crown of thorns that is the Congress presidency today, followed by the electorate rendering a mandate in favour of such an eventuality. He made no claim, Smriti-ji, to becoming PM because he is the great grandson, the grandson and the son of three democratically elected Prime Ministers of the country (two of whom lost office by virtue of the same democratic process that bought them to the top).
Indeed, he has more than once disavowed any claim to the leadership of the Congress because he is someone’s descendant. We have an election process going on right now within the party. Even as Jitendra Prasada pitted himself against Sonia Gandhi in the party elections of 2000-01, so also is it open to any Congressman or woman to stand against Rahul or his mother, as the case may be. The party will accept as a rival candidate anyone who bids for the office – but it is for someone to declare him/herself as the rival candidate and then go on to win the party’s plurality. Let us see if that happens – but would it not be wonderful if Smriti Irani were to run against Amit Shah? Her television roles certainly show her to be better at dramabazi than Amit-bhai!
To prevent her Big Boss from throwing her out of the programme, the Minister for Information & Broadcasting slammed Rahul Gandhi for speaking slightingly of the current PM on foreign soil, quite forgetting who started this. It was Nehru – yes, the same Jawaharlal whom Irani reviles – who started the practice of consensus in foreign affairs. In putting such consensus into practice, he involved Opposition members in the conduct of foreign policy. To illustrate this, former Foreign Secretary Maharajkrishna Rasgotra in his autobiography tells the story of how, as a junior officer at our Permanent Mission to the UN in 1957, he received a personal message from the Prime Minister saying he had included in the Indian delegation to the annual UN General Assembly session a young, 32-year old first-term MP of the Jana Sangh, one Atal Behari Vajpayee. Rasgotra was instructed to introduce this young man to as many foreign leaders as he could because Nehru saw in him great promise. Many decades later, the same Vajpayee was requested by a Congress Prime Minister to accompany the much junior Congress minister Salman Khurshid to take on the Pakistanis at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva during a particularly bad phase of Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir. Nehru thus set the tradition of us leaving our domestic quarrels behind when our leaders traveled abroad. It was a tradition that persisted till 2014.
It was Modi who definitively broke with that tradition. He has repeatedly indulged in utter bilge about his country and his predecessors (including, by implication, the BJP’s own Atal Behari) by saying on foreign soil (and, in Toronto, in the presence of the Canadian PM) that before him, India was known for nothing but its corruption; that before Anno Modi, India wandered everywhere with a begging bowl; that before he was bestowed on the nation, Indians were ashamed to call themselves Indian. And along comes Irani with the gall to sternly reprimand Rahul for speaking some home truths about her Hero.
The fact is Rahul mentioned Modi neither by name nor office in his initial remarks (that came later in answer to pointed questions). What he did do was point to dangers in our political and ideological environment that threatened to derail the progress the nation had made over seven decades of independence. Is Irani against ahimsa that Rahul held to be “what allows this huge mass of people to rise together” and went on to warn is “viciously under attack in India” today? Of course, Irani is against ahimsa because that is what Savarkar railed against, and Golwalkar blamed Asoka for undermining the martial traditions of the land. Hatred, envy, violence and admiration of Hitler and Mussolini are in the very DNA of the entire Sangh Parivar’s intellectual and moral inheritance.
Rahul went on to stress that we needed to grow at over 8 percent but ensure that such growth is not jobless because “no amount of growth is enough for India if it is not accompanied by the creation of jobs”. Is that not a self-evident truth? So when Rahul says “30,000 new youngsters are joining the job market every single day and yet the government is only creating 500 jobs a day”, is he abusing Modi or underlining contemporary India’s most significant challenge? When Rahul says, “The government’s economic policies, demonetization and hastily-applied GST have caused tremendous damage”, is that fact or empty rhetoric? When he stresses that “agriculture is in deep distress and farmer suicides have sky-rocketed across the country”, does the reply lie in castigating baba for having implied that mama slipped? Was demonetization not a “self-inflicted wound”?
And is it not the duty of a leading figure of the Opposition to end his peroration urging that, “If we continue at the current rate, if India cannot give to millions of people entering the job market employment, anger will increase and it has the potential to derail what has been built so far”? As also to warn that this “will be catastrophic for India and the world beyond it”? Wouldn’t it?