In the 2014 elections, the Congress was decimated with only 44 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed the government with a resounding majority.
The defeat of the Congress also made the party reassess the branding of Rahul Gandhi as their leader, and it seems to have worked somehow. Party president Rahul Gandhi can be said to have come some way from his disastrous interview with Arnab Goswami when he was in Times Now to his recent interview with Srinivasan Jain of NDTV. The party won three key Hindi heartland states -- Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan -- in the Assembly elections and there were hints of a Congress ‘resurgence’ wave. The Congress also learned to handle social media well and senior leaders were vocal and vehement on Twitter and Facebook. People were paying attention to the Rafale scam, the encounters, demonetisation, and goods and services tax that were brought out very well in scathing election campaigns by Rahul Gandhi.
What is puzzling to me is the Congress’ silence over defamatory attacks by the BJP. In the latest instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls late Rajiv Gandhi, the ex-Prime Minister and father of Rahul Gandhi, “bhrashtachari No 1” (corrupt No. 1). Rajiv Gandhi lost his life in a terrorist attack. This definitely calls for a retort -- legal or verbal -- by the Congress, even though Rahul Gandhi has tweeted saying ‘Karma awaits’ and sent Modi a virtual hug.
In the same vein, who can forget Smriti Irani, a Union minister, circulating a fake video of Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, exhorting children to shout against the PM. The ridicule heaped upon Congress leaders by the BJP has crossed civility and even turned vulgar at times. Sonia Gandhi, referred to as a ‘bar girl’ or ‘Jersey cow’, for instance, brings out the patriarchal attitude of the Sangh-driven BJP where women are objectified and become tools of abuse.
Congress has a battery of lawyers, such as Kapil Sibal, Manish Tiwari, P Chidambaram and Abhishek Manu Singhvi. What stops them from putting an end to this new low in the political discourse of our country? Do they not want to lose energy over this? Or is this nastiness the ‘new’ in Indian politics?
In the 72 years of election, in the largest democracy where battles were always fought bitter, never have the rules of civility and decency been crossed thus. The vilest thing said about late Indira Gandhi in her time was “Goongi Gudiya” or dumb doll. Nobody brought out the private lives of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani or George Fernandes.
Political leaders have to learn to debate civilly and focus on issues. They must remember that their followers emulate them, and that’s dangerous.
The writer is a published author and writes bits about racism and feminism. She makes political comments on twitter @minicnair. The views are personal