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Letter to Rahul Gandhi: Fight in your own territory

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
26 Feb 2024

Dear Shri Rahul Gandhi Ji,

I am pleased that the Indian National Congress (INC) has successfully forged alliances with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. This has revived the prospects of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) at a time when things seemed to be going solely the Narendra Modi way.

I believe that for the success of democracy, the Opposition should be strong. I never relished the CPM winning West Bengal in successive elections or the Biju Janata Dal retaining Odisha for so long. Jawaharlal Nehru should have stuck to his decision to quit after 10 years. Alas, he returned to power, only to feel isolated in the party after the 1962 debacle.

What new ideas does Modi have that he needs another five years to implement? If his intention is to make India a theocratic nation, he does not know that it was with a great sense of relief that Nepal threw away its theocracy and ushered in a Republican form of government.

It is in the interest of the nation that the BJP is given a tough contest. The governments of Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were able to do well, not when they had a huge majority but when they had a precarious existence in the Lower House of Parliament. Theoretically, it is possible to defeat Modi if the Opposition unites to pick up the gauntlet Modi has flung at it.

The Congress has an important role to play in this regard. It is still the only party that has a presence in every nook and cranny of the country. Even the BJP is yet to reach that position. That is why the expectations are high from the INC.

What prompted me to write this letter is a discussion on a news channel where you were lampooned for some comments you made while undertaking your ongoing Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. One of them said that trying to decipher you is like eating Rasam with chopsticks.

It did not bother them that the discussion happened on the 10th anniversary of the last press conference addressed by an Indian Prime Minister. Incidentally, Modi used to call Manmohan Singh a "Mauni Baba," though he addressed nearly 150 press conferences in India, on flights, or abroad. I attended at least eight of his press conferences.

It is part of the BJP's strategy to dub you as Pappu. If the party fears anyone, it is you and no one else. You have been interacting with people, addressing press conferences, and giving lectures without the aid of a teleprompter. In the case of Modi, he is more a reader than a leader. And when the teleprompter conked out at Davos, he could not utter a single word. He just sat down.

That is his level of competence. When his demonetisation decision went haywire and tens of millions of people suffered, Modi made a public statement that if he could not set the situation right, the people could burn him alive. His statement reminded people of what some people did at the Best Bakery in Vadodara in Gujarat.

Modi should never have expected the people of India to be as revengeful as to burn him. I, my family, and my church people always pray for his good health so that his decisions are equally healthy.

Modi can behave in any way he likes because the media will gloss over it. When he asks people to make noise to fight Corona, nobody would write any thunderous editorial to criticise him. Nor when he asks people to switch off electric lights and light diyas!

But that is not the case with you, as they are all vying with one another to pick holes in your statements. That makes it all the more imperative for you to be more careful. Your aggression towards a television journalist was needless, to say the least. True, the media are owned and controlled by the dominant castes. Why single out anyone?

My first job was with a news agency owned by a Bengali Brahmin, who was your grandmother's contemporary at Oxford. Then I joined The Hitavada, which was owned by a Brahmin from Raipur, who was one of the kingpins of the Emergency. My next tenure was with The Searchlight/The Hindustan Times, owned by the late KK Birla, whose caste was considered backward in Uttar Pradesh and forward in Bihar.

After that, I worked for the Indian Express, founded by Ramnath Goenka, "an amalgam of Rajput and Bania, Bihari and Tamil, an atypical Marwari who was of the community but not really part of it. He combined the attributes of a Vaishya, Kshatriya, and Brahmin," to quote BG Varghese.

When I joined The Tribune, the owner was a Trust founded by a converted Sikh and headed by a former Chief Justice of India, who was a Brahmin by caste. I never had the experience of working under a Backward Caste or Dalit editor. I would indeed be happy if Mallikarjun Kharge succeeds Modi.

For your information, when VP Singh succeeded your father as Prime Minister and implemented the Mandal Commission report, his government wanted to appoint a committee. The PM wanted the inclusion of a Dalit journalist in the Committee. That is when the government found, to its chagrin, that there was not a single Dalit journalist accredited to the Government of India.

The situation of the Dalit journalists might have improved marginally but not drastically. However, their general condition has only deteriorated. The report titled "Survival of the Richest: The India Story" of Oxfam India tells us that the top 5 percent of the population owns 60 percent of the national wealth, while the bottom 50 percent owns only 3 percent of the national wealth.

Forty percent of the wealth created between 2012 and 2022 has gone to just 1 percent of the population, including Adani and Ambani. Only 3 percent of the new wealth has gone to the bottom 50 percent of the population. When you shamed a journalist, you shamed a large number of people.

You would have noticed one thing. Modi never mentions your name. Recently, he made fun of the Supreme Court, which found the Electoral Bond scheme unconstitutional. He used the story of Sudama, also called Kuchela, to say that had the Court been present at that time, it would have taken suo motu action.

Modi should have known better about Sudama, as the largest temple for him is situated less than a mile away from Mahatma Gandhi's birthplace at Porbandar. Sudama did not want to visit Krishna, who was his class friend. It was Sudama's wife who persuaded him to visit him. She had an ulterior motive in persuading him to carry a packet of puffed rice that Krishna was fond of.

The companies that donated large sums of money through the electoral bonds, too, had a purpose to serve in doing so. The Supreme Court did the right thing in stopping the secret donations. Modi forgot that he had promised to usher in transparency when he came to power in 2014. You know what he did to the money in the Congress accounts.

In your case, you mention Modi's name every now and then. For a politician, the worst thing that can happen is when people ignore him. In fact, names should be used only sparingly. In your case, you mentioned that Amitabh Bachchan, accompanied by his daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai, was present at the Pran Prathishta ceremony at the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The fact is that she was not there.

As regards Bachchan, you can find his name as one of the contributors at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. I visited the Tirupati temple the day after Bachchan donated a Hastam worth Rs 8 crore. The same evening, I interviewed a senior temple official who dismissed it as of little consequence, as the temple had ornaments worth hundreds of crores of rupees. I thought the actor could have built a good school with that money.

It was unbecoming of a leader of your stature to refer to the drunkards at Varanasi, the Prime Minister's constituency. Drunkards are human beings who have become victims of addiction. Addictions are of different types. You won't call a "sophisticated drinker" who downs four or six pegs before going to sleep a drunkard because, for all you know, he may be a "successful businessman or politician or journalist."

Having said all this, let me also tell you that you are, perhaps, the only politician who dares to challenge Modi. I admire you for that. But you have an element of unpredictability in you, as, for instance, when you hugged Modi in Parliament. The hug made no sense to me, as Modi's hug makes no sense to leaders like Donald Trump.

You mentioned that the consecration ceremony at the Ayodhya temple was attended by the likes of Bachchan. True, a vast majority of the Dalits do not attend temple ceremonies. In fact, the poor have no time for such luxuries. When Sri Narayana Guru established a Shiv temple, his competence to do so was questioned. To that, he replied that the Shiva deity that he consecrated was not their Shiva but "our Shiva."

You should know your rival better. Modi knows how to please his clientele. In fact, he enjoys a monopoly on Ayodhya. Those who feel thrilled that he was able to set up a temple where the Babri Masjid once stood will definitely vote for him. Let him get those votes. Instead, concentrate on other voters. You don't have to do much.

Modi has delivered at least 10 Independence Day speeches from the ramparts of the Red Fort. He made many promises. Take them one by one and check whether he has been able to fulfil any of those. I will give you one example. He promised 100 smart cities. Is there any city that can be called a smart city? Is New Delhi one?

He said he would make at least one village in every constituency a model village. You can ask him to show one model village he created. There are innumerable promises that have remained on paper only. He says India attained real independence only in 2014, which is when he came to power at the Centre. You should ask him why he blames the dead like AB Vajpayee.

There is an area about two or three km from the Somnath temple in Gujarat, where thousands of confiscated boats are kept. If Modi can stand there for 10 minutes without falling, I can believe in his claims about Swachh Bharat. I felt like throwing up when I stood there for a few seconds to take a photograph. I ran back to my car.

You can ask him why India has been going down in world ranking when it comes to freedom of the Press. Bangladesh has long overtaken India in life expectancy, fertility, child mortality, sanitation, school participation, and gender equality. When it comes to per capita income also, Bangladesh is ahead of India.

You can ask him why he has not been able to hold the census. These days, Modi is busy inaugurating AIIMS-type hospitals in various parts of India. He is merely inaugurating new wings of these institutions which had already come into being.

If you have time, please read Parakala Prabhakar's The Crooked Timber of New India. You will know how Modi has been taking India down the road of illiberalism. By the way, he is the husband of the Union finance minister. It will give you enough material to question Modi. You should not allow Modi to get away with claims that under the Congress, the country did not achieve anything. You should point out achievements like food sufficiency, the setting up of ISRO, a string of IITs, the first victory in a war, and the telecommunication revolution.

It is good to speak extempore, but you should know when to start and when to stop and what to say and what not to say. Recently, I saw a video of a fight between a crocodile and a tiger. The crocodile was trying hard to drag the tiger to the water, where he knows he will have an upper hand. You should not allow yourself to be dragged into the waters of Hindutva if you want to win the battle.

Yours etc.

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