These days there’s a new catching disease in India, where sentiments are said to be hurt at the drop of a hat and punitive action demanded by all and sundry. The new avatar of this is to demand an apology for insulting India or for showing India in a poor light. Usually this follows criticisms of government policy (even in a general way) — especially from overseas.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is certainly guilty of this, as a BJP spokesman noted. He has also been held guilty of saying things that can lead to the breakup of India. Speaking at an educational institution in Hamburg, Mr Gandhi seemed to suggest that the policies of this government tended to exclude tribal people, poor farmers, lower caste Indians and the minorities.
In another era, a senior Opposition figure, no matter from which party, wouldn’t criticise the government on foreign soil. This tradition was abandoned under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who delighted in running down opponents while overseas. Members of the Opposition, most notably Mr Gandhi, have since become ardent imitators.
Of course, the Congress leader has been somewhat more even-handed. At a widely reported university event in the United States last year, he also criticised his own party and the UPA-2 government for having become “arrogant”, that he said was a cause of its downfall. However, this wasn’t construed as anti-India by his political adversaries.
To be fair, in Hamburg, Mr Gandhi was painting a broad-brush picture on likely adverse consequences of adopting an exclusivist outlook in policymaking. He noted as an illustration the rise of ISIS and the feeding of insurgency-related sentiments in Iraq when, after the American invasion, people of a certain community were barred from joining the Army. (So far, no one in the US has accused Mr Gandhi of making anti-American statements.) This is a far cry from seeing ISIS’ rise in India, of which Mr Gandhi has been held guilty by some.
Quite apart from the political back and forth that has become comically “normal” these days, leading to improbable expectations from political opponents and providing low-grade entertainment on television channels, Mr Gandhi appeared to make an insightful observation in Hamburg as he noted that episodes of lynching in India, now spreading like a rash, could be linked to the frustrations arising from joblessness and destruction of small businesses caused by demonetisation and the faulty implementation of GST.
It has been noted elsewhere that thus disempowered young people are sought to be diverted by extreme-right elements to be funnelled into communalised causes. A leading French scholar of Indian politics, Christophe Jaffrelot, has lately also made us aware of the linkage in a state like Haryana between the state police and outfits to which lynch mobs are affiliated, thus offering a glimpse of what para-state elements can do. No harm is done to India through such expositions.