Rahul Gandhi is the new star on the Congress firmament. His mother Sonia Gandhi has passed on the baton to him and he is the party president. Rahul is the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru. Thus the office of Prime Minister, if and when the party is voted to power, remains with the dynasty. It has, naturally, given a sense of unity, important for a country of division and diversity.
Rahul Gandhi is not that young. At 48, he is the youngest president of the Congress so far. Whether he has answers to problems plaguing the country is yet to be seen. But he is considered very blunt. He has rightly attacked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its mentor RSS for dividing the people. A combative Rahul specifically targeted the Prime Minister, taking on the issue of corruption.
However, the parties joining hands to attack the government on the killing of 39 Indians in Iraq is misplaced. These people were kidnapped four years ago. One wishes that Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had used pressure by the West to have the Indian released. The attitude of the West is not understandable. None of these has bemoaned the massacre.
Similarly, the Congress has singled out the BJP for the massacre. Congress leaders blamed the government for the delay in announcing the killing. Shashi Tharoor, a Congress leader, criticised the government for giving “false hope” to the families of the hostages. “This is saddening for every Indian, rest I would ask why this information was delayed by the government, they should tell how it happened and when did they die. Also, the way government gave high hopes to the families was not right,” he said.
So far, parliament's stand is too prosaic. Its debate reflects the division between the Congress and the BJP. Granted that they are polls apart, they should have come together for the action on the massacre. Sushma Swaraj's explanation that they wanted to be sure does not condone the inordinate delay. To condone this, she should have announced the government's action. At present it looks as if it has pocketed the normal anger over the killings.
She was, however, right when she said that without concrete evidence, the government could not have announced the killings. “It is the duty of any responsible government to not declare anyone dead without confirmation. I have said earlier that I won't declare them dead without evidence, and won't wait for even a day once it's confirmed,” Sushma Swaraj said.
“Are we going to play politics over dead bodies? I want to ask the Congress, why did they disrupt the House today?” Swaraj said. “I went to Lok Sabha with a heavy heart today and came out even more disappointed,” she said in a press conference after her speech was disrupted in parliament.
Rahul Gandhi, I think, should open a new chapter. Unity or even a semblance of it is necessary to blunt the criticism on late announcement over the killings. Still there is no action. The Muslim countries could have been marshalled to condemn the massacre. We should have been able to convince our neighbouring countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to come out on the killings.
In the meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi's dinner meeting with the opposition leaders was a step in the right direction to bring all non-BJP parties together to see that the BJP does not return to power in 2019. Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala, however, said the dinner was not organised for politics but for amity and friendship among opposition parties. “The intention is not political, but to hold discussions in a family-like setting at a time when the nation is confronted with a number of issues, including the farmers' unrest,” he said after the dinner.
Surjewala said at a time when the Congress was not allowing Parliament to function, it was obvious that leaders of various parties would get together to discuss the current political situation. Sonia Gandhi has consistently been pushing for broader opposition unity, urging political parties to set aside their local differences and get together in the larger national interest to keep the BJP out of power in 2019. In fact, Sonia categorically said that Narendra Modi would not return to power.
Apparently, this is just the beginning of all parties coming together to try to oust the BJP. CPI(M)'s Mohammad Salim said more comprehensive meetings will soon follow. Pawar has called another meeting of opposition parties later this month. However, the BJP hit out at the Congress after Sonia's dinner. “It seems Sonia and Rahul Gandhi doesn't believe in democracy. They speak outside on democracy but don't practise it in Parliament. Congress doesn't have democracy in its genes,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said.
At the plenary session, the Congress president did not leave a chance to attack the BJP claiming that the Modi government colluded with India's biggest crony capitalists. He also accused the BJP saying that the party was the voice of an organisation, while the Congress was the voice of a country. Yet he admitted that the Manmohan Singh government didn't meet the expectations of the people in its last few years. He said, “We are humans, we make mistakes. (But) PM Modi thinks he is not human but an incarnation of God.”
Rahul, in his concluding remarks, said that the Congress will take the country forward. “To every youngster in India, we are your instrument. The Congress party belongs to you. We want to open our doors to your talent, your bravery and your energy. This country is struggling and it needs you,” he added.
How far Rahul can remove the ills within the Congress is yet to be seen. People in the country await his action or functioning. The foremost thing is employment. Can he create two lakh jobs a year and increase the GDP to 11 percent to stave off the economic backwardness?
Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.