All within a few weeks, Rahul Gandhi has gone from the walker who, with a unifying touch, wanted to take love to every citizen of India and end the atmosphere of hatred and communal divide, striding fearlessly from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, to a man accused of insulting India abroad, defaming and insulting OBCs with his comments. He was found guilty of the latter offence by a Surat court and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, a sentence suspended by the very court to give him time to appeal. He has been disqualified from membership of Parliament and, to rub salt in his wound, asked to vacate his official residence by April 22.
Almost as if he had the premonition, Mr Gandhi had spoken of being homeless during the Congress plenary, where he said his home was when he was with ordinary Indians, on the streets, as during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and not some palatial bungalow in Delhi. He has also spoken of how he feared that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might, in his efforts to silence him from asking tough questions and raising difficult issues, put him in prison. Foretelling is a dangerous art, but he seems to have perfected the ability to see ahead during the last several months.
Without a doubt, because of all these occurrences in the last few weeks, the entire national political and media focus has been on Rahul Gandhi, and despite the dispiriting nature of the developments, the Congress Party has been energised and enthused by his leadership, even as its president handles more mundane and administrative matters.
Mr Gandhi and his series of misfortunes might actually be a blessing in disguise, however, for it has finally given the Opposition its most serious wake-up call. It is one thing for Central agencies to arrest a couple of AAP ministers on charges of corruption or role in a scam, or start questioning and probing the daughter of the Telangana CM, but quite another to first get a lightning-fast judicial sentencing and follow it up with alacrity to issue a notice of disqualification from Parliament and then eviction from official residence to Mr Gandhi.
Barring an official ally, the Uddhav Thackeray group of the Shiv Sena which was upset with Mr Gandhi over his remarks on V.D. Savarkar, most of the Opposition has promised support to the Congress. It is up to the Congress and the Opposition if they can turn this moment of adversity into a collective opportunity; and if they understand the wisdom of “let us hang together… lest we get hanged separately.”
The only thing is that the Opposition seems very miffed, confused and even flustered by the seeming lack of public outcry against the developments. Several leaders bemoaned how people used to come on to the streets to make political points, and oppose the governments of the day. The last major public outcry was the Anna Hazare-led crusade against corruption, while the two major organised campaigns during the Narendra Modi government’s tenure were by farmers and Muslims against specific laws.
The Opposition and the Congress must live with the fact that the people have moved on from caring about politicians any more than the politicians, themselves, care for the people. At best, they will show their love only on the social media.