Accession & Accusation

he cold spell in the northern parts of India was unusually brutal this winter – temperatures dipped to levels not felt in over forty years. But, the warmth of an extraordinary agenda at Chintan Shivir was enough to bring much needed respite, not just to the participants but also to the Congress party as a whole.

The three-day brainstorming session held in the Pink City gave Congress a new hope, and India a new Prime Ministerial hopeful. The congregation of party stalwarts was euphoric; the heir-apparent, Rahul Gandhi had yielded to their relentless calls to lead the party. A sense of relief permeated throughout the Shivir as party’s long-held prayer had finally come to fruition. Uninhibited display of emotions, some genuine and others fake, were accompanied by the uncontrollable tears of joy rolling down their eyes. And, far from exhibiting any misgivings about taking orders from their inexperienced junior Master, senior leaders of the party could explain their incessant sobbing as a mark of respect for their new leader.

Like his late uncle Sanjay Gandhi who, at a fateful time in the history of modern India, assumed almost absolute power with no official authority in the government, Rahul Gandhi has enjoyed perks of his commanding lineage, wielding enormous influence while remaining an outsider with no responsibility attributable to him. The resistance he put up so valiantly against being drafted to lead the party couldn’t be stretched indefinitely; it came to an end at the Shivir.

Such occasions are primetime for ridiculing the opposition. Speaking vociferously at the summit, Sushil Kumar Shinde couldn’t resist the itch to level unfounded accusations against the BJP and RSS of running terror camps in the country. Prone to making controversial statements unbecoming of a senior member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, he scratched the itch hard enough to turn it into a gashing wound.

In retrospect, even if it was meant to appease party’s vote bank, Shinde’s shenanigan was an unnecessary distraction from the important task of cherry-picking a leader. His vitriolic comments only took the shine off of Rahul’s anointment which was otherwise meticulously planned for maximum effect. Whether or not the Home Minister could fathom the damaging nature of his mindless remarks, his irresponsible statements regarding ‘Hindu terrorism’ have travelled far and wide, making India’s security more vulnerable to terror attacks by extremist elements from external and internal sources alike.

Courtesy Mr. Shinde, Hafiz Saeed and his ilk have enough fodder to feed radical Islamists who stand ready to turn their guns on those who he has demonized as ‘Hindu terrorists’, thus endangering India’s already susceptible security further. Internally, the likes of Akbaruddin Owaisi were given an impetus to evoke contentious sentiments that deepen discord among the misguided who are already severely alienated on religious grounds, and ready to insurrect at the slightest pretext.

Back to Rahul Gandhi; ordained and ready to act, he faces numerous challenges, least of which is to remove the tarnish that has accumulated over decades of tolerating free-for-all loot and corruption at all levels of governance. For India to progress, he must also strive to close the religious divide his party members are busy widening to polarize the country for their narrow interests - victory at the polls.

‘Hindu’ is not a dirty word; he needs to adopt a common sense approach that addresses the legitimate interests of the Hindu majority and brings those interests at par with minorities’ interests. Building external bridges of peace and cooperation that have been repeatedly shattered by Pakistan’s belligerence can wait while India rebuilds lasting internal bridges of religious harmony under the banner of secular democracy, with no room for factions that seek to perpetuate religious discord in this unique, multi-religious and multi-ethnic, conglomeration.

It takes courage to assume charge of a party that has lost its bearings in the turbulence of an uncertain future. Does Rahul Gandhi have the acumen to steer the Congress party to safety, and India to its glorious future? Only time can tell.
*Ravi Munshi
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