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A letter to Rahul Gandhi - Alone in the crowd

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
12 Oct 2020

Dear Shri Rahul Gandhi Ji,

“Crisis brings out either the best or the worst in a person.” You might not have known that when you went to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh to meet the family of the Dalit girl who was “gang-raped” and killed and whose body was burnt to ashes by none other than the custodians of law and order, you were finding a new place in the hearts of tens of millions of Indians.

When Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, drunk on power, intercepted your journey using the brute force of the state and forced you to go back to Delhi, let me admit, I feared that you might not pick up the gauntlet flung at you. The CM has already created an image of himself as a ruthless person, who would go to any extent to suppress dissent.

If you recall, one of his first acts on coming to power was to withdraw all the criminal cases pending against him in various courts of law. And he is the one who has put behind bars a journalist, Siddique Kappan, merely because he dared to go to Hathras to do a story for his viewers. 

Since there was no Muslim connection to Hathras — neither the victim nor the rapists professed the faith — it was necessary to create one. Remember how he and his ilk tried to put the blame of Coronavirus on the minority community by referring to the Tablighi conference in New Delhi. That is why poor Kappan is in jail with charges under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act slapped against him.

I really feared that you might not dare to return to Hathras, as you had to go to Punjab to begin your tractor journey to express your protest against the farm laws, enacted hastily during the recent Parliament session. You proved your mettle when you returned to Hathras, forcing Yogi & Co. to allow you and your sister to meet the grieving, hapless family.

I will never be able to forget the pictures in which you are squatting and listening to the victim’s relative (father?) and your sister embracing her mother. I consider it as your rite of passage. It was like the test of fire for you both like the one Lord Ram’s consort had to undergo to prove her chastity.

True, you had to face humiliation like when a police officer pushed you down on the ground and another had the temerity to pull at Priyanka Gandhi’s dress. When I saw that picture, I thought of what Draupadi had to face in the court of Duryodhana, when the Pandavas faced defeat in a game of chess. It was your act of courage that emboldened leaders like Annie Raja and Brinda Karat to visit the family.

In defying Yogi, you have earned the goodwill of crores of Indians who look up to you for leadership. Let me add here, there is hardly any politician who has been defiled and reviled like you. I am sure you know that if the ruling dispensation fears anyone, it is you and no one else. Mayawati and Mulayam Singh are too busy guarding their wealth, disproportionate or otherwise, to speak a word against the BJP.

That is why right from the word go, the BJP leaders and their cyber warriors have been calling you “Pappu”. They have been portraying you as a clueless dimwit without any rhyme or reason. You might not remember that there was a time when the BJP leaders spread rumours that your family would go to Italy if the Congress lost power at the Centre.

The tragedy is that a large section of the media has fallen prey to such insinuations against you. They, too, have been vying with one another to portray you as a nincompoop. When Narendra Modi startles the nation with his idiotic decision to ban Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes, the same media hail him as a visionary leader. 

When he foolishly tells the nation that Coronavirus can be banished in 21 days, the exact period Pandavas took to defeat their cousins at Kurukshetra, no one has the courage like Joe Biden to ask him to shut his mouth. When the great leader asks people to beat their utensils and vessels from their balconies to scare Coronavirus away, he is hailed as a great unifier. Such is the level or sycophancy practiced by the elite in 21st century-India! And when he wastes precious resources to shower flower petals on hospitals treating Covid patients and lights up Naval ships, he is compared to the Great Helmsman. When China occupies Indian territory and the PLA sits tight on it, he tells the nation, without as much as batting his eyelids, that nobody has occupied even an inch of Indian land. Yet, his army of trolls portray you as one who cannot be trusted.

When your Hathras visit captured the headlines in the media, I saw a picture of Modi in his trademark spotless dress and matching footwear using an implement in a paddy field. The implement was a spade! I have never seen any farmer ever using a spade. He did not even know what implements the Indian farmer uses. We journalists use the spade because our job is that of a muckraker, a term used first against John Bunyan, author of the Pilgrim’s Progress. I am glad that you are one person who calls a spade a spade.

I have heard that Modi is a great communicator, while you are not. It is six years since he became the Prime Minister, but he is yet to address a Press conference. As I write this on Friday morning, I am interrupted by the arrival of the newspaper.

In today’s newspaper, I find a report from Bhopal which quotes a Madhya Pradesh minister accusing you of being on drugs when you led the farmers in Punjab and Hathras. I would have told the minister, Narotham Mishra, that it is better to be on drugs to oppose dictatorship, than to be the dictator’s doormat without drugs. Why are they so rabid when it comes to attacking you? There is a reason.

When your great great grandfather Motilal Nehru joined politics when the British were in full command, he had nothing to gain but everything to lose. Soon, he  was able to capture the imagination of the nation because of his sheer brilliance. Your great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru did not have a bed of roses in the Congress.

Nehru spent altogether 10 years in prison, whereas Modi ran to the US when the Emergency was imposed on the nation in 1975. Not even Mahatma Gandhi spent so much time in prison, even if one includes the days he spent in a prison in Pretoria. Small wonder that Bhagat Singh, whose bravery none can match, found Nehru a greater revolutionary than Netaji Bose, who, incidentally, had no compunction in collaborating with the likes of Mussolini and letting the Japanese torture the prisoners in Andamans, including the grandfather of a friend who owns the Dalhousie Public School.

The Sangh Parivar’s hatred for Nehru stems from the fact that it was he who prevented it from growing in the country. The RSS remained a captive body of a certain group of Brahmins from Maharashtra, while its offshoot Bharatiya Jan Singh espoused the cause of the Maharajas and Maharanis and looked for communal flash points to make its presence felt.

So when a new district Malappuram was created in Kerala, the party sent cadres from Delhi to protest against it on the specious plea that it would become a mini-Pakistan. Recently, when a female elephant was killed in Palakkad district many BJP leaders, including your aunt Maneka Gandhi and minister Smriti Irani, protested against it thinking that it happened in Malappuram. These two ladies were conspicuous by their silence on the Hathras issue.

It was no smooth-sailing for your grandmother Indira Gandhi, either. Like many of the letter-writers in the Congress who want to have you evicted from your position, the top leaders of the Congress at that time were against her. They called her a doll like Modi who called his predecessor Manmohan Singh a “mauni baba”. It is a different matter that unlike Modi, the Sardar was always available to the media persons. 
It was a delight to travel with Manmohan Singh, as I did on three occasions, because he would address the media twice on a trip to a foreign country. The first one would be to express his expectations from the visit and the second one would be to brief the media about what happened during the visit. By the way, he never saw a foreign trip as a pleasure trip!

To return to Indira Gandhi, her real rite of passage was when she threw the old lot in the waste dump in the 1971 elections. I must add here that history will never pardon her for choosing the path of the Emergency. However, she gracefully accepted the people’s verdict and braved the attempt to silence her. I still remember the historic elephant ride she made to visit a Dalit ‘basti' in Bihar. 

The visit marked the beginning of the end of the Janata Party and her return to power. Your father Rajiv Gandhi was the beneficiary of the sympathy wave that brought him to power. If today India is an Information Technology hub, it is because of his foresight to promote the use of computer and revolutionise telecommunication.

No one in history had turned down the offer of leadership — not once but twice — like your mother. All the calumny heaped on her by the Opposition did not make any dent on her personality, as Sonia Gandhi remains more Indian than any Indian. Nobody in the Nehru-Gandhi family faced so many challenges as you. 

The whole country knows that you could have become a minister and held any portfolio in the UPA government but you preferred to remain on the sidelines of power. Your opponents always describe you as a dynastic leader.
It is true that dynasty helped you at the beginning of your career. However, it was not dynasty that helped you to square up to Yogi at Hathras. Rather, it was your steely determination. I can fill this column with the names of the BJP leaders both in the government and in the party, who benefited from dynasty. What right does it have to accuse you of dynasty?

Ramvilas Paswan who died on the night of October 8 had bequeathed his whole party to his son, who is its only member in the Lok Sabha. The lady from Punjab, who resigned from Modi’s Cabinet, allegedly on the farm Bills issue, is the wife of a party’s leader, whose own father is the paterfamilias of the same party. 

The minister who publicly asked “…. Ko goli maro” is the son of a former BJP Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The Congress, under your leadership, did not win the last Lok Sabha election. I wonder what the result would have been if the poor jawans were not martyred at Pulwama in Kashmir.

The BJP would have lost power in Modi’s own state if the Prime Minister had not stooped so low as to beg for votes using all the cards up his sleeve. Actually, in Modi’s victory, I could see your own victory. You are no longer a baby in politics. I notice that your hair has been receding and losing its lustre. It should be seen as a measure of your maturity. 

In politics, especially Congress politics, there are many Brutus-like characters, who are ready to stab you from the back. You saw how a little dynast from Gwalior had little problem in donning the robes of Hindutva when he was denied Chief Ministership. There are many like him in the party. Some of them are busy writing letters and some of them are busy coining new words like Tharoorisma. They are fair-weather friends.You should not bother about them. Instead, you should bother about the teeming millions who lost their jobs in this Covid time and those who suffer from social and other inequities. 

You are absolutely right that the present-day scenario would be quite different if democracy is allowed to function and the media have the sensitivity to know that their commitment is to upholding the truth and not to be the microphone of those who promise Ram-rajya and provide Ravan-rajya.

Now that the whole country looks up to you to provide purposive leadership, you must not disappoint them. They may target you, they may call you names and they may even arrest you under cooked-up charges but don’t forget that history respects those who resisted, those who defied and those who charted a course of their own. Please accept my best wishes.

Yours etc

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