While he can’t stop himself from coming up with his own version of Goebbels’ truth every day, he still lacks the recognition of a credible agent of change
Ajay Singh | September 7, 2018 | New Delhi
Demagoguery is elemental to politics. But the use of lies, rather patent lies, as an instrument of politics is a new trend. In the age of social media lies peddled with confidence acquire features of truth for the masses.
This manipulation of social psychology through patent lies is called as “gaslighting”. This term was used by a US writer named Armenda Carpenter while discussing the politics of US president Donald Trump. In May I wrote about how Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been gaslighting India incessantly. Of late, he has turned gaslighting into a fine art. He is trotting the globe with an air of machismo and describing India as “the worst place on earth in the regime of Narendra Modi” which situation could be reversed only if the prime minister is removed.
There might be genuine reasons for his Modi-centric rant. But his brazenness of playing around with facts and presenting falsehood as truth falls into the exact pattern of manipulating people’s behaviour through deception and falsehood. There is indeed a method in his madness. Take, for instance, his attempt to project the Rafale deal as “corruption”. One of the reasons he has ascribed corruption to this project is the fact that the Reliance Group has no prior experience in defence manufacturing. Rahul tends to forget, or deliberately push to the recesses of his memory, certain other equally well-known facts that are not to his convenience. Like the fact that this is not the first time the group has won a project in an industry it has no background in.
Back in the remotely-controlled regime of Manmohan Singh, this same group was awarded gigantic infrastructure development contracts in Delhi and Mumbai. The Rs 6,000 crore Delhi Metro Airport Express line was awarded to the group under the public-private partnership (PPP) model in January 2008. It was meant to be commissioned in August 2010 in time for the Commonwealth Games (October of that year) but missed the deadline repeatedly before it was partly inaugurated in February 2011. Even after that, it was beset with problems. Meant to run at 135 kmph (other metro lines run at 80 kmph maximum speed), it had to drop down to 50 kmph due to technical faults. The line had to stop operations for six months in July 2012 to rectify structural errors. Six months after it resumed operations, the group walked out of the project citing irrecoverable losses (due to the shutdown), forcing Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the public sector partner, to take over operations.
A year earlier, in 2007, the Reliance Group was awarded the contract for Mumbai Metro 1 and Mumbai Metro 2 lines under the PPP arrangement. Metro 1, at an estimated cost of Rs 4,600 crore, was inaugurated in June 2014 after missing several deadlines and Metro 2, at a cost of about Rs 18,000 crore in 2017, is still under construction. Neither metro construction had involved a private player before this nor had the group any background in rail construction. It has now become one of the major operators in that space winning many contracts in the other Mumbai Metro projects.
Rahul's second major line of attack on the Modi government with regards to the Rafale deal is that the Reliance Group was drowning in debt of nearly Rs 40,000 crore at the time it partnered with Rafale. This, according to him, was a give away from the government. While the jury is still out on that, it is instructive to note how Rahul pans Modi without realising that his reference to the group’s debt crisis is nothing but an indictment of the Manmohan government and his loan profligacy, aptly called “phone banking” by Modi while retracing the bad loans crisis that has crippled India's banks.
Yet, Rahul continues his attack as if he is insulated from the sins of the UPA government.
Take another instance of his fulmination abroad in which he accused the Modi government of subverting the judiciary. He carefully avoided any reference to his own party’s crude attempt to stage a coup in the supreme court by initiating the impeachment of the chief justice of India. That was the highest level of intimidation of the highest judicial officer of the country, in the 70-year history of the apex court. That the move came out a cropper is no thanks to Rahul or his party, but its intent was unmistakable and ever-lasting. It was the most brazen attempt at the subversion of the judiciary. Disturbingly, this attack came from the main opposition party, whose job it is to resist attacks on the independence of the supreme court from the government of the day.
In Indira Gandhi’s time seniority in the supreme court was upended to make the judiciary pliant to the political executive. But nothing of that sort has happened in the last four years as exemplified recently by the nomination of rebel judge Ranjan Gogoi as the next chief justice of India. He calls demonetisation the biggest scam in India and explains it in a rather curious way. He says that in demonetisation the government took away poor people’s money and replenished the coffers of rich industrialists by writing off their loans. This is a unique formulation, as close to the truth as the North Pole is to the South. It also completely disregards the UPA government's own immense contribution of the bad loans mess. It is quite akin to the apocryphal story of Indian politics in which an opposition leader mounted an attack on the ruling party for a string of bad crops. He claimed that the government had built dams and power plants that were extracting the electricity from the water and making it impotent for agriculture. Absurd as that is, such formulations often resonate with the population. That's perhaps why Rahul can't stop himself from coming up with his own version of Goebbels’ truth every day.
He compares the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the Muslim Brotherhood. In his perception, both are guided by intolerance and violence to attain their ultimate goal of establishing a theocratic social and political order, no matter what facts bear out. He forgets, of course, that his father and prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, had explained away the worst riots of post-Independence India saying “when a big tree falls (Indira Gandhi's assassination), the ground is bound to shake (killing and maiming of thousands of Sikhs).” Of course, as the honourable P Chidambaram recently said, Rahul was just a schoolboy and he should be spared the burden of carrying the cross on behalf of his father or the Congress party. Rahul also forgets that it was Rajiv – not the RSS or Modi – who had the locks of the temple inside the Babari mosque opened in 1986. Here, too, he can take refuge in Chidambaram's inventive excuse; Rahul was still a schoolboy.
But what about 1989 when Rahul was a strapping young college-goer? Would he care to recall that that year, his father – swamped by corruption scandals and a looming defeat in the upcoming elections – had launched his 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya promising to usher in “Ram Rajya” after laying the foundation for a temple at the disputed site?
Now that he is 48 what is his comprehension of the events after Indira's assassination? To claim, as he did, that the Congress party was not involved in this dark chapter of independent India — after the judicial proceedings against several party leaders and apparent half-hearted apologies from the top leadership — is not only utterly unconvincing but reflects total callousness and insensitiveness on his part. Even if he was too young to comprehend politics then, who has he been taking his contemporary history of India and the Congress party from? Hopefully not from Uncle Chidambaram.
Rahul’s political conduct falls into a consistent pattern. He seems to be convinced that his aggressive stance combined with bluff and bluster would make a winning combination and ultimately propel him as an alternative to Modi. He is momentarily successful to the extent that he is occupying people’s mind-space through media coverage. Rahul's utterances are not random. It all seems to be a part of a carefully crafted strategy to ape international trends of being economical with the truth and peddling blatant falsehoods with hubris.
But he still lacks the recognition of a credible agent of change. The reason is not far to seek. With a non-existent organisational network, the Congress has been moving about like a rudderless ship. Its attempt to forge a coalition through regional forces is bound to strengthen regional parties more than the Congress. Rahul’s own brand of Hindutva (visiting temples, now going on the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage) is not only anachronistic with the new Hindutva captured by the Sangh Parivar but also anomalous with the party’s pronounced left-leaning ideological underpinnings.
Demagoguery, not falsehood, has a place in politics only when there is a sense of drift and the welling up of people’s anger against the rulers – as was the case in 1977 against Indira Gandhi or in 1989 against Rajiv or 2014 against Sonia-Rahul-Manmohan. Modi is neither losing people’s trust nor is he ceding ground to adversaries. In such a setting, Rahul has no doubt embarked on a foolhardy political expedition.
[This comment has appeared on FirstPost.com]
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