Rahul Gandhi's expulsion has come at a politically convenient time for the Modi government with general elections due one year from now. This time, our judiciary chooses to go for harsh punishment for verbal jibes which appear innocuous to common sense, and the government gets the opportunity to attack and suppress the opposition voices more and more.
Judicial activism in our country fails to address many issues of justice and stays dormant on striking issues like Kashmir, but then suddenly some court verdict pops up to change the entire political discourse. The political churning for the next general elections has begun with this verdict against Rahul.
Rahul Gandhi may have come to the Centre stage in the media because of this Surat court verdict, he may or may not get relief from higher courts, but if he continues to be unseated from the Lok Sabha for the rest of the term and his chances of being the opposition's candidate for prime ministership become doubtful, then the dynamics in opposition space changes a lot.
The weakened Congress party has become a 'very necessary but not sufficient at all' force on the opposition side in the last ten years. Whether Rahul will be able to strongly stand before Modi as a prime ministerial candidate has been a point of discussion within Congress as well as other regional anti-BJP parties, again and again. This debate holds true even today. To his credit, Rahul himself looks discredit, whether Rahul becomes prime minister or not. While the Modi government attacks the very foundation of our democracy in systematic and strategic ways, Rahul sees himself in a bigger long-term role of saving Indian democracy. His recent hand extension to civil society leaders during Bharat Jodo Yatra indicates that he is ready to break out of the traditional Congress framework.
His not being a prime ministerial candidate may be a blessing in disguise, as the opposition unity will become more feasible without the binary of Modi vs. Rahul. This binary may have trapped the potential of opposition unity and limited the chances of its rejuvenation.
While the government tries to compensate for its non-performance by killing the competition and retaining power by degrading the quality of our democracy and thrusting its religious ideology against the Idea of India that has shaped us after independence, the opposition now has the historic responsibility of reinventing Indian democracy.
The attempt to just restore it may now not be politically enough. The opposition will need not only to resist the current religious hegemony but also to offer a new deal to youth and excluded Indians and catch the imagination for charting a new path. The binary of faces has to be replaced by offering a new political agenda to people at large.
The Congress party will have to give up its ambition and temptation of ruling this country once more. It must play the role of a junior partner or merely a supporter in states where regional parties are strong. A very simple understanding among the opposition parties should bring them all together on a platform, and that is, that the party with the largest number of MPs in Lok Sabha should stake the claim for the PM’s post after the elections.
India has witnessed the renewal of political agendas from the opposition side. It generally takes a nationwide political movement to renew the agenda, just election campaigns are not enough to chart a new path. JP's 'Sampoorna Kranti' was one idea that generated such a political movement across the country. It rattled the Congress party which was powerful then. If the Modi government has imposed an undeclared and tactful emergency on India, the response also has to be similar to that of the next version of the JP movement. This version will be placed in post-globalization India of today when our democratic institutions are fast losing their potency to empower the common Indians. Rahul Gandhi alone may not be qualified to occupy that spot, firstly because of the feudal baggage of the old Congress partisans and secondly, it requires a 'fakir' branding like Gandhi or JP to create mass appeal among the underprivileged Indians. The big ideas of this movement will set the agenda. Economic justice for common Indians, redesigning and strengthening of the federal structure in favour of states, attacking and bridging inequalities of all kinds, and environmental sustainability might become the pillars of such a new movement.
While the larger Sangh Parivar might be feeling elated that the strongest contender to Narendra Modi in the 2024 general elections, nationally, has been removed clearing the way for Modi’s return to power, they’ll be foolish if they are complacent. For the movement for the independence of this country and then for the revival of democracy, when it was eclipsed for two years by Emergency rule, was led by leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan, respectively, who were least interested in occupying a post through elections. Priyanka Gandhi in her recent speech lamented about people not rising in revolt. She has rightly reminded the country of the sacrifices of her family members in nurturing democracy. While people may not rise up in support of Rahul or against Advani, the history of the country has demonstrated that they do rise up to save democracy and they’ll do it again when the threat perception becomes real. But she should remember that the biggest Gandhi who sacrificed his life for the country was Mahatma Gandhi and his life was taken by a person associated with Sangh Parivar ideology. The politics of Hindutva can never wash away the taint of this ghastly and cowardly act. The country will have to be reminded that one Hindutva activist took the life of the most well-known Sanatani Hindu respected not only by Hindus but people all over the world. The politics of Hindutva is a blot on the name of liberal Hinduism, practised by most Hindus as a way of life and recognized as such by the world for this special quality of assimilation.
It is because of the Gandhian brand of politics that this country got a constitution that ensured that secularism, socialism and democracy will thrive and values of liberty, justice, equality and fraternity will be held highly. While this idea of India is compatible with liberal Hinduism it is an anathema for Hindutva and that is why the erosion of these ideals and values has taken place very fast under the BJP rule.
So the real fight is to preserve these ideals and values. It is to save the idea of India from the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and their sympathizers.
By Harshavardhan Purandare and Sandeep Pandey
(About the writers: They are associated with Socialist Party (India).)