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Letter to Rahul Gandhi: Democracy disqualified

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
27 Mar 2023
There are millions of people in India who want you to remain in politics. Few people have interacted with the common people as you had during your yatra.

Dear Shri Rahul Gandhi,

I am sorry to say that you are like the Shakespearean character, King Lear, who was more sinned against than sinning. I am sure that you would not have in your wildest dreams harboured any hatred for the surname Modi or for those who have it as part of their name. There may be hundreds, if not thousands, of Modis in this country.

There were a few Modis on the run those days. That is how you rhetorically asked at an election meeting in Karnataka on April 13, 2019, “how come all the thieves have Modi as their common surname?". Before this, you mentioned the names of two fugitives — Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi — and prime minister Narendra Modi, whom you accused of corruption, to make the comment intelligible to the listeners.

Ordinarily, only one of the Modis named could have filed a defamation case against you. Also, the crime occurred in Karnataka and the case should have been registered in that state, not in distant Gujarat. Now, one of the best ways the establishment has found to break the backbone of a dissenter is to register multiple cases against him.

That is how a Gujarat MLA was arrested by the Assam Police and taken to Guwahati. When he got bail, another case was registered against him that he tried to misbehave with the police woman while he was in police custody. A Congress leader was arrested for a tweet while he was about to board the flight to attend the recent AICC session at Raipur.

Yesterday, when the report about your conviction appeared, I tried to access the judgement. I would have downloaded the judgement had it been in Hindi or English. I wanted to find out whether you had apologised for your comment.

If I were your advisor, I would have strongly advised you to give the following statement at the time of hearing. “I am really sorry that my statement has hurt the feelings of the complainant and BJP MLA Purnesh Modi. I was speaking extempore and I did not want to defame any person, least of all the complainant, against whom I have no personal grudge”.

I am sure such an apology would have taken the steam out of the case and you would not have suffered the ignominy of being called a “criminal” and a “convict” after the verdict. See, how quickly the Speaker of the Lok Sabha has managed to disqualify you, referring to you as an ex-MP!

The tragedy is that there is hardly any politician in the country who has been abused and lampooned as you. It was just a few days ago that BJP spokesman Sambit Patra called you the “Mir Jafar of Indian politics”. Can there be worse abuse than this? 

For starters, it was Mir Jafar’s treachery that helped the British East India Company to defeat the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies in the decisive Battle of Plassey in 1757. The British never looked back thereafter until 100 years later, when some soldiers revolted against them in Meerut and other places.

Your paternity, maternity and dynasty are all questioned and dragged into public discussion by the same forces who gloat over your discomfiture and disqualification over the Surat verdict. I recently heard the prime minister referring to you as a “dynast”, little realising that it is now 38 years since a Gandhi took oath of office, i.e., since your father was sworn in as PM.

I do not know who advised you not to apologise in the court. You should have remembered that you are not like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who would never say sorry for anything that they ever did. 

Have they ever said sorry for the agony they caused to tens of millions of people when they withdrew currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 from circulation? Or, when they imposed a lockdown that devastated a whole country? Forget the Gujarat riots, which have been whitewashed. They are not your models. In fact, they should never be your models.

We are human beings and we make mistakes. That is why the saying, “to err is human, to forgive is divine”. When we find a man killing a man in pursuit of politics, we feel sorry for the man and the ideology that prompts him to do so. No, it is not the sorrow that someone feels when he sees a puppy coming under the wheels of a moving car. The two are poles apart.

I am happy that soon after you were convicted, you tweeted, “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it”. You have rightly quoted Mahatma Gandhi. 

I am sure you would have seen in your great-grandfather’s library the complete works of Gandhi. Maybe not, because all the 100+ volumes would not have been published in Jawaharlal Nehru’s lifetime. I cannot claim to have read the complete works of Gandhi.

I had an occasion to hear KP Shankaran speak at Kerala Club soon after he retired as professor of philosophy at St. Stephen’s College, considered the Alexandria of the East, which the BJP has reduced to the status of yet another Delhi University college. He recently published a book titled “Gandhi and the Centrality of Ethics”. What he said at the Club was that Gandhi never personally attacked anyone. There was one exception, though.

That was because Gandhi thought that he was corrupt. It is a different matter that the person concerned is today eulogised as a great statesman and revolutionary. He was a vainglorious person, who got a costly uniform made with several insignias on the chest, when he was made head of the Congress Seva Dal.

The point is that it is better to be like Mahatma Gandhi, who was not provoked when a Malayali gentleman, who happened to head a Congress session, wrote a book titled “Gandhi and Anarchy”. A good politician is one who can take such attacks in his stride.

The whole country has been curiously watching how the BJP has been demanding an apology from you for your statements in London. You have been accused of saying things which you have not said. You are alleged to have said anti-national things. Anyone who criticises the government suddenly becomes an anti-national.

Until Modi came to power in 2014, there was an unwritten rule, followed by every prime minister from Nehru to Manmohan Singh, including AB Vajpayee. They would never criticise the Opposition, while they were abroad. Once, your father included Vajpayee in a UN delegation purposely to let him have a medical check-up there.

Joe Biden of the US would not attack Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin, mention his rival Alexei Navalny’s name while they are on foreign soil. The new practice was started by Modi. For instance, he attacked the Congress while he was in Canada and Germany claiming that it gave away coal blocks like one gave away his pen or handkerchief.

Years later, Modi mentioned while on a visit to South Korea and China that at one time Indians “were ashamed to be born in India” while they are now proud to be known as Indians. He is incorrigible because he believes that India attained Independence only in 2014. He conveniently forgets that there were periods when leaders like Morarji Desai, VP Singh, IK Gujral, Deve Gowda and Vajpayee gave leadership to the country.

Modi does not have the magnanimity to admit that whatever progress India has achieved is the result of the work done by the people of India, whether on farms or in factories.

I am happy to know that you are invited by the universities abroad to speak to their faculty and students. I remember Harvard had invited Laloo Prasad Yadav to talk to the students about how he transformed the Indian railways through innovative solutions that made railway services profitable too.

I can imagine what will happen if you are invited by, say, Kurukshetra University to speak on your unique experiences while walking all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. First of all, no Vice-Chancellor would dare to invite you. And if the invitation is made, there would be crowds instigated to disrupt the meeting. You can imagine what would happen to the VC.

When they abuse you or call you Pappu, what they reveal is their sense of desperation over your growing popularity, as seen during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. You are one leader whom they have not been able to tame so far. We no longer hear anything from BSP chief Mayawati. Nor does Akhilesh Yadav have anything to say.

Of course, Yadav would become active once elections are announced. Unlike them, you have been relentlessly criticising Modi. You had rightly asked some questions about the Adani saga. Nobody in India believes that he could have grown so big as to aspire to be the richest person in the world within such a short period.

Nobody wants any proof that he built up his business empire through devious means. Otherwise, the 106-page Hindenburg report would not have destroyed the Adani empire, reminding me of Jesus’ words, “Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall”.

The honourable course of action would have been for the Prime Minister to distance himself from the Adani saga. Your questions were met by silence and yet more silence. It was the same Prime Minister who called his predecessor “Mauni Baba”!

The Opposition demanded that Adani matters should be left to a parliamentary committee. Who would have enjoyed a majority in such a committee? Obviously, the BJP. Yet, there was no willingness to let such a committee examine the corrupt practices allegedly indulged in by the company.

What’s worse, the government did not even mind resorting to adjournment after adjournment of both Houses to keep the lid tight on the Adani issue. The BJP should have remembered what its stand was when a Swedish radio first broadcast something about the Bofors deal.

When the BBC telecast a programme on Gujarat, the government went out of the way to attack the channel. It said that everything was hunky-dory in India. Yet, it did everything possible to ensure that the common people did not see the BBC programme forcing twitter and other social media companies to delete links to it!

On the one hand the government says India is a fully-functioning democracy and on the other it is pushing dissenters into dungeons using agencies like the ED, the CBI and state police. Opposition leaders who were called corrupt suddenly turn lily white when they join the BJP.

You are now facing the greatest challenge in your political career. Lily Thomas was one of my friends. It was she who went to the Supreme Court and obtained a verdict that ensures disqualification from the membership of the House the moment a Member of Parliament or Legislature is sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of two years.

I remember that all of a sudden, she became the toast of civil society. She was feted and felicitated for her achievement at the fag end of her life when there was nobody to look after her. I am happy to remember that I had criticised the verdict in my column in this journal because of the lack of a safety clause in it.

For instance, you may be able to prove in a higher court of law that the Surat judge was erroneous while giving the verdict. But your seat in the Lok Sabha is gone and you can’t contest for six years! In one stroke, they got you removed from the political arena. That is why you were given the maximum punishment and the Speaker showed so much enthusiasm to issue the disqualification notice.

There are millions of people in India who want you to remain in politics. Few people have interacted with the common people as you had during your yatra. You should use the experience to create a niche in politics. Let the people say about you: Here is a man who walks the talk, no matter whether the dogs bark behind him or in front of him, as politics is a mission for him. 

Yours etc

ajphilip@gmail.com

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