The Congress Party and the BJP have started another round of unproductive and self-defeating verbal exchanges over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s distasteful comments, again on foreign soil, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ways of governing. The BJP cannot be faulted for defending its uncrowned king but it is time that the Congress introspects into its leader’s penchant for making personal attacks against his chief political foe that crosses the patriotic “lakshmanrekha”. The political cost entailed by this is large and, come 2024, it will be the party itself that is called upon to dispense it.
No doubt, like every other thinking individual, political leaders may have their personal opinions. What set them apart from the rest, however, is that they also have a duty to themselves and their followers to be circumspect before airing them in public. This is even more the case when the subject in question is none other than the Prime Minister. Mr Narendra Modi has reached the position where he is now by successfully defending himself against allegations of all kinds including that of his personal involvement in very serious administrative lapses when he was Gujarat CM.
At the political level, again, the discourse should be about policy rather than personality. The Opposition may have differences with the ruling party on the arc of the country’s progress under the present government; there may be issues of the economy that affect people’s day-to-day life as well as the bureaucracy’s acts of omission and commission which require scrutiny. The Opposition always stands to benefit from taking up such substantive issues. The moment it reduces them to a personal level, it plays into the trap of its opponent.
Therefore, it would seem likely that the Congress and Rahul Gandhi as well as some other leaders have gleaned little from the people’s verdict in Karnataka where electioneering was conducted on these lines. While the Congress campaigned on the planks of corruption and lack of opportunities and resources, the BJP chose to attack Mr Gandhi, holding him responsible for “insulting” the state and its people on various fora. But by electing the Congress there, the people made it clear that manufactured insults are of little concern to them and their lives and livelihoods matter more.
The general consensus among the Indian political class for quite long has also been that, while they remain opponents inside the country, they defend national priorities outside it. They have taken care not to let their personal spats spill out of the border. Mr Gandhi has been consistently breaking this unwritten rule to no end. He is very well within his rights to give the Opposition’s views a hearing while abroad, but taking this to a partisan level, and further below to the personal level, will be a zero sum game. It will only bring down esteem for the country as well as for him among friends abroad.
It is incumbent upon Mr Gandhi to realise this because the functioning of his party apparatus is not vibrant enough so that an open discussion can take place within it for the result to be communicated to him thereafter. It is time also for the grand old party of Indian politics and it members to realise that it is they who bear the responsibility of initiating discussions on the performance of the NDA government in the last nine years rather than of cocking a snook or many at the idiosyncrasies of the man who is at its helm.