On his recent visit to London, Rahul Gandhi categorically stated, “…Our government simply does not allow any idea of the opposition to be discussed. The same happens in the Parliament House.” He emphasised that the structure of democratic negotiation constitutes a free press, parliament house, and the judiciary while adding how “these democratic institutions are under attack by the RSS and the BJP.” Rahul Gandhi’s condemnation and mockery of Indian democracy, Government of India, and the National Interest have thus been much debated and criticised. Even so, it is crucial to analyse it more because there seems to be a distinct design here.
In the first term of the Narendra Modi Government, Rahul Gandhi used to take frequent foreign travels. Between 2015-19, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha while discussing the Special Protection Group (SPG) Bill, Gandhi travelled abroad at least 247 times — an average of 62 trips in a year, which amounts to five a month. The data was available because most of these trips violated SPG norms. But most of these trips and tours were also politically impactless.
Some tours, at least seven of them, stand out because Mr Gandhi attacked the Government of India on these occasions from foreign soil. Before his London fiasco in March 2023, he intentionally and irresponsibly tarnished the image of vibrant and strong Indian democracy in the United Kingdom (May 2022), UK and Germany (August 2018), Malaysia (March 2018), Singapore (March 2018), Bahrain (January 2018), and USA (September 2017). Some of these attacks were launched from within academia and universities, viz. Cambridge University, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and University of California, Berkeley.
Forum for Irresponsibility
One can’t help but wonder why and how many prominent Indian academics based in foreign universities provide a forum to someone like Mr Gandhi. Take, for instance, the “Ideas for India” conference (May 2022, UK) organised by ‘Bridge India’ which identifies itself as “a progressive non-profit think tank dedicated to discourse on public policy.” The conference witnessed the participation of key political Indian figures like Rahul Gandhi, Salman Khurshid, Mahua Moitra, Tejashwi Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, and Manoj Kumar Jha, among others. All opposition voices! None from the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) or any other political representatives were invited to this conference. Only Dr Ashwath Narayan (BJP, Karnataka) was a surprising exception who got roped in to deliver a talk on National Education Policy, 2020. University of Cambridge faculty Shruti Kapila moderated Mr Gandhi’s session at the conference.
Between 2015-19, Gandhi travelled abroad at least 247 times — an average of 62 trips in a year. Some tours, at least seven of them, stand out because Mr Gandhi attacked the Government of India on these occasions from foreign soil. Before his London fiasco in March 2023, he intentionally and irresponsibly tarnished the image of vibrant and strong Indian democracy in the UK (May 2022), UK and Germany (August 2018), Malaysia (March 2018), Singapore (March 2018), Bahrain (January 2018), and USA (September 2017). Some of these attacks were launched from within academia and universities, viz. Cambridge University, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and University of California, Berkeley
Mr Gandhi and his advisors utilise these forums to undermine Indian democracy like a “typical” opposition. His party defends his actions suggesting this is what the “opposition” does. But a sense of history belittles these claims. For instance, a flashback reminds us that amid Pakistan’s UN march to flag Kashmir, India under PV Narasimha Rao responded by passing the Kashmir resolution on February 22, 1994. Five days after Indian Parliament’s resolution, Pakistan tabled a resolution at UN Human Rights Commission (now Council) in Geneva through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that condemned India for human rights abuses in Kashmir. If passed, UN Security Council would have imposed economic sanctions on India. To counter the move, Rao dispatched a team led by opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee to Geneva with Salman Khurshid and Farooq Abdullah.
Why is this event so important and worth remembering in light of the actions of Mr Gandhi? PV Narasimha Rao was running a minority government. However, he still could trust a strong opposition leader like Vajpayee to provide “one voice” to the Indian stand on a significant international stage and refute Pakistan on Kashmir. Vajpayee himself had recalled the shock in the Pakistani camp when they saw him as the leader of the Indian delegation. Salman Khurshid recollected the same in 2018. But the likes of Mr Gandhi are fairing well in turning the “atypical” role opposition has played in the Indian Parliament on the national interest into a “typical” one by condemning the government on foreign soil.
To extend the Pakistan issue only as an example, in 2019, Pakistan had banked on Mr Gandhi’s political statements on Jammu & Kashmir in its 115-page dossier against India, which was to be submitted before the UNHRC. After his statement on Kashmir was used by Pakistan twice, he did realise that he had made a mistake and tried to correct that by putting a tweet.
Who Endangered Indian Democracy?
It is worth reminding the nation and Mr Gandhi that the Emergency (1975-77) was the only occasion when Indian democracy was under attack. He seems unaware that the first foreign casualty in the Emergency was the correspondent from The Washington Post, who was expelled from India four days after it was imposed. And the first Indian casualty was Kewalram Ratanmal Malkani, the legendary editor of Organiser Weekly. The correspondents of the Daily Telegraph, Newsweek, and The Times (London) had to leave India within a few days as they refused to adhere to “Press Censorship Guidelines”. The same BBC for which Mr Gandhi was shedding tears in London, also had to shut down its office in August 1975 due to the lack of freedom to report. The same Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that Mr Gandhi keeps calling “fascist” and compares to Muslim Brotherhood was fighting against Mrs Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship to safeguard Indian democracy. In January 1976, The Economist lauded Sangh’s monumental people’s struggle in an article titled ‘Yes, there is an underground.’
It took Mr Gandhi more than 20 years of political life to admit that the Emergency was a “mistake”, and that too in a qualified way. He still believes that the Congress party at no point attempted to capture India’s institutional framework, thus it is on a higher ground than BJP. One after another, he keeps alleging these speculative and unfounded theses in his interviews with Indian academics working in USA-UK, and nobody counters him with a fact check.
The same BBC for which Mr Gandhi was shedding tears in London also had to shut down its office in August 1975 due to the lack of freedom to report. The same RSS that Mr Gandhi keeps calling “fascist” and compares to Muslim Brotherhood was fighting against Mrs Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship to safeguard Indian democracy. In January 1976, The Economist lauded Sangh’s monumental people’s struggle in an article titled ‘Yes, there is an underground’
Such a fact-check is necessary as a way of conclusion. According to ‘Varshney-Wilkinson Dataset on Hindu-Muslim Violence in India, 1950-1995, Version 2’, there were 1,194 communal violence incidences documented in India from 1950-1995. Out of these 871 or 72.95 per cent were during Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s PM-ship! Let’s visit Mr Gandhi and BBC’s favourite state Gujarat. Much before Godhara (2002), the Congress Government in Gujarat oversaw major riots in Ahmedabad (1969, 1985, 1986) and Surat (1992).
Ahmedabad alone reported 71 communal violence incidence with a total casualty of 1071 from 1950 to 1995. But neither Mr Gandhi seems to know about the tainted and communal history of his party, nor did his academic sympathisers educate him about it. One should appreciate and applaud Mr Gandhi and Congress’s “opposition” zeal because Indian democracy requires it, but they shouldn’t cry foul when “We, the people of India,” dismiss and reject the renegades of Indian democratic principles.
(The author is a PhD candidate in Dept of History, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack)