Positive politics is fuelled by an obsession for change, while a political obsession is often fuelled by a confrontation between relentless rivals. Often, it strays into the treacherous territory of vicious verbosity banishing all logical debate and dialogue, thus placing democratic institutions in danger of moral destitution. Last week, the Congress and BJP were locked in a Waterloo of Words, the worst-ever since the NDA government assumed power. Usually political parties settle down to the serious business of governance and legislation as soon as an election gets over. But the two mainstream parties, which have been engaged in a fusillade of fulminations since the Bihar polls, were expected to engage each other in resolving many legislative issues pending in Parliament. Personal attacks on personalities rather than on ideologies, however, are likely to paralyse the process of governance. The Bihar polls were fought around the calculus of personality power. All contesting parties spewed the worst invectives against their opponents. The political warfare was confined to two central personalities—PM Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. It was evident that both the parties expect that all future battles would be fought around personas, not policies. India’s new politics now revolves around crafting strategies, which aim at building, promoting, demolishing and tarring leaders. Ideology is dead. Individuals with high-calorie egos wrote its obit. The breaking down of dialogue is contaminating democracy with the warring egos of leaders, an ominous sign for the people who have elected them in the hope of a better India.
The BJP set the tone of the tension-torn talkathon with its firebrand leader Subramanian Swamy firing the first salvo at Rahul, alleging he floated private companies in the UK, declaring himself as a British citizen. The Congress refuted this vociferously. (Previously, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar had announced that Robert Vadra would be flung in jail within six months.) The BJP leadership joined the anti-Rahul tirade and demanded an explanation. The Congress, emboldened by its Bihar success, retaliated with abounding aggression. Young Mr G led the counter-attack. Instead of the BJP, it was the PM he had in his cross hairs. Rahul went ballistic, “I want to say this Modiji, it’s your government, you have all the agencies. Set them after me. Show your 56-inch chest. Launch an investigation against me and if you find anything in six months, put me in jail. But stop using your lackeys to throw dirt at me or my family.” He also added, “Our Prime Minister doesn’t take interest in Parliament. He and his government don’t take interest in the questions raised by the Opposition.” Taking the cue from Rahul, other Congress loyalists opened fire on Modi. Mani Shankar Aiyar, a Gandhi loyalist, showed his venomous side in the Pak media. According to TV reports, he said, “First, it is required to remove Modi, otherwise talks will not move forward. We’ll have to wait for four years. These people are very optimistic about Modi, they think that talks will move forward with Modi’s presence, but I don’t think so.”
The Congress obsession with Modi can be well understood because he has broken its political monopoly by singlehandedly getting the BJP a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. He is perceived as the most popular and effective PM since Indira Gandhi. The Congress fear is that as long as Modi’s credibility and acceptability remains intact, it doesn’t stand any chance of regaining power at the Centre. As a well thought-out strategy, Mr G has always kept Mr M in his firing line. To begin with, he termed the government a suit-boot ki sarkar. Later on, he made fun of the PM’s alleged proximity to corporate czars. Rahul has made it clear to his party leaders that the Congress shouldn’t mind sacrificing its interests in a couple of states if it means damaging Modi’s image. It entered into an alliance in Bihar only to ensure that the PM’s image as an invincible leader was damaged. According to party insiders, Rahul, Nitish and Lalu ensured the Battle for Bihar was converted into a fight between Modi and the rest. The Congress has drawn up a detailed plan to track Modi’s performance as PM and his dealings with various state governments. Rahul’s own mandate is to hold Modi responsible for all the failures of the government and the BJP. The Congress will not hesitate to make more personal attacks on the PM. Its high command is convinced that with the economy performing poorly, Modi’s image as a Vikas Purush will be eroded, making it easy for them to diminish him further. Moreover, the party and its promoters have decided to focus the limelight on Rahul, since they feel he is the only leader with pan-Indian recognition. Though his organisational skills and ideological moorings are yet to be established, the Congress continues to believe only Rahul can take on Modi effectively because age is on his side.
Ironically, if the Congress is determined to swim or sink with Rahul, the BJP has also decided to focus on Mr G. Soon, India will witness a direct fight between the BJP and Congress in more than half of the coming state polls. Hence, the ruling NDA would like to minimise the Rahul impact. During the next 12 months, elections will be held in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, etc. The BJP is unlikely to perform well in any of them. A humiliating defeat would adversely affect the image of the BJP and PM. The BJP’s strategy would be to prevent Rahul or the Congress from becoming the leading player in forging an anti-BJP alliance. Since Mr G has almost taken charge of the Congress party, the BJP would like to rein him in before he blossoms into a nationally acceptable leader. Some BJP leaders have already been assigned to dig as much as dirt as possible on him.
The major victim of the burgeoning bitterness between the two major parties is going to be the forthcoming Parliament session. The government was expected to extend an olive branch to the Congress to push through its agenda for good governance. It has to revive the feel-good environment in the country so that domestic production and employment can pick up. A constructive cooperation between the ruling party and the Opposition could also facilitate implementation of some of the innovative schemes launched by the PM. Unfortunately, negative elements in both the parties are determined to keep personal feuds alive to prevent losing their relevance and utility in their outfits. In the clash of personalities, it is the national interest, which will be the biggest casualty.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla