NEW DELHI: Politics and Parliament never fail to throw up surprises. Tuesday was such a day. When in both Houses of Parliament, members cutting across party lines surpassed one another in articulating their concerns on ‘growing intolerance’ and their commitment to the Constitution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi rose to speak, simultaneously in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, projecting divergent world views.
By coincidence or design, in their contrasting speeches — PM trying to reach out to the Elders in the Upper House, to the states talking about creating inter-connectivity (not through taxes) but through language and culture; and Rahul telling him not to just put the Constitution and its makers on a pedestal, but to also act against his supporters and colleagues who ‘snuff and silence’ voices that the book sought to empower — a bit surprisingly, both referred to songs that united people.
The Prime Minister alluded to Vaishanava Janato, how the harmony of the Mahatma’s favourite hymn could bind people from disparate backgrounds; while Rahul said Gandhi and the makers of the Constitution “for the first time in centuries gave India dignity to talk… and in response India didn’t just talk, she sang so beautifully that the world could do nothing but listen with rapt attention.”
If the PM’s was a course correcting pragmatic speech, with overtures to the members of the Rajya Sabha, citing even Nehru to harp on the point that “it was desirable” that both Houses worked in tandem, Rahul’s was an angry, direct charge couched in an appeal to “not condemn” the “nation to silence.”
The Prime Minister talked about the ‘mantra of Ekta’ embedded in the Constitution that could bind all and safeguard against the “many excuses for disintegration” in a diverse country like India while Rahul cited Pakistan to warn against such a situation.
“Pakistan has failed because they did not allow the voice of their people to be heard. They have failed because their leaders crushed voices that were inconvenient to them. Their biggest weakness is their intolerance. Let us not learn lessons from them,” Rahul intoned.
Unlike his Lok Sabha speech on the Constitution, in the Rajya Sabha, the PM was more specific, tangentially referring to the incidents of violence — Dadri, perhaps. “If there is any incident of atrocity against anybody, it is a blot on all of us, for society as well as the nation. We should feel the pain and ensure such things do not happen,” he said.
There were no such nuances in Rahul’s outpouring. He lit into the absent Union Minister VK Singh, the former Army Chief. “A general who likened two little babies who were burned to death to dogs. He has directly challenged the Constitution… and Modiji does not see any contradiction in celebrating Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and his minister’s remarks — he (Ambedkar) helped write the Constitution so they (the Dalit children) would never be burned,” he charged.
He raised a finger at BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, seated in the House, referring to his controversial comments about Godse. Also on the Skill India campaign, Rahul said students of the FTII wanted the ‘mediocre’ man put at the helm of their institute removed, but the government refused to listen. “Just as the Gujarat Government has filed 20,000 FIRs with sedition charges against Patidar Patels for demanding reservation in education and jobs. Now protest is seditious,” Rahul quipped.
On Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s description that the return of awards by prominent personalities was manufactured, Rahul mocked, “Why would they manufacture it? This is not a dream like your ‘Make in India’ programme.”
Whether Rahul and the opposition will keep on harping on “the profound differences in thinking’’, only the coming days will show. As for now, the Modi Government is still trying to play footsie with the Opposition. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made whatever promises and offers that could be made to appease it, including a CBI inquiry on the killings of the rationalists and action against loose cannons.