Rahul Gandhi after being disqualified from parliament
Rahul Gandhi's conviction and expulsion from the parliament has been widely condemned by political parties in India, who say democracy and free speech are under assault (AP Photo) Image Credit: AP

Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as a member of Parliament had an unexpected outcome. It finally energised a fractured opposition to unite even if the parties have been quick to clarify that it is a voice for democracy and not a validation of Rahul as a leader of any opposition front.

The inability of non-BJP parties to find a common ground thus far has been nothing short of political suicide, a pundit doesn’t need to spell out that only collectively is there a fighting chance against the BJP. An opposition in disarray plays into the BJP’s hands as it marches towards the 2024 elections.

Which begs the question, has the government overplayed its hand? US says it is “watching” the case of the Congress leader in court and was engaging with the Indian government on “freedom of expression.”

Those more loyal than the king will dismiss this as an international conspiracy, but the G-20 summit is barely six months away and image matters, we know that.

Opposition MPs wearing black attires raise slogans in the Well of Lok Sabha demanding a JPC inquiry into the Adani Group issue during the second phase of the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

Government on the offensive

Barring Rahul Gandhi from Parliament for a political comment when hate speeches from BJP leaders drip like water from a tap and the level of discourse is almost guttural- Union minister Hardeep Puri recently likened him to an ass among all the other name calling directed at him in the past- gives opposition claims that these are tactics to stop all and any debate on Adani, legitimacy.

It is the first time that Parliament has not been allowed to function by the party in power.

Congress’s delay in taking legal recourse opened a can of conspiracy theories but the disqualification and the prompt eviction notice- this lightning speed has no parallels in government corridors- will only backfire for the BJP if it is capitalised.

Could this be a turning point in Congress and opposition unity that has until now not even flattered to deceive? Much depends on the motley crew and, Rahul Gandhi himself.

Eighteen opposition parties including the maverick Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP-despite not finding Congress support during Manish Sisodia’s arrest- have joined in the protests. But as mentioned earlier, it also rests on Rahul Gandhi.

The newly formed unity was almost derailed at the starting line after the Congress leader’s remarks against V D Savarkar, the Hindutva ideologue upset the Uddhav Thackeray- led Sena which skipped a dinner meeting hosted by Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge.

Exigencies of political unity

Adamant on not apologising for his comments against the PM, Rahul says- again- that he is no Savarkar, a man who died more than 50 years ago but has seen a rebirth in Indian politics after being appropriated by the ruling party.

The spotlight though hasn’t done the departed well, as Rahul inferred, his mercy petitions to the British have become a reference point for a spineless act.

Rahul Gandhi’s letter in response to the eviction notice is a classy show and he is known to speak his mind, but politics dictates that sometimes thoughts need to be tempered in front of exigencies of political unity.

He has already pushed the buttons of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the alliance in Maharashtra between the Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP during the Bharat Jodo Yatra over the same issue.

For Uddhav’s Sena this could be a moment of reckoning as it walks a tightrope trying to marry its businesslike makeover with the strident core Hindutva plank of the past that it still needs to send a message to its cadre.

But more than that the Shinde government is breathing down its neck ready to grab the emotive issue just as it did the Shiv Sena party symbol. After some hectic behind the scenes early creases seem to have been ironed, at least for now.

With central investigating agencies on overdrive, it isn’t an easy stint in the opposition. Fourteen political parties have also knocked on the doors of the Supreme court alleging that these agencies are being misused in a “selective” and “targeted” manner against them.

Who's next?

In this game of checkers, it is a question of who next. Queuing up for summons have been Telangana Chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha, Bihar deputy chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav and even the unwell Lalu Prasad Yadav, to name but a few.

The prerequisite of a robust democracy is a strong opposition but will the ‘like-minded’ parties be able to keep their differences and regional compulsions aside? The road is long and, this quote from Martin Luther King Jr is not far from the truth, “we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”

This unity hasn’t escaped the Prime Minister a sign that they are on the right track. It would not be presumptuous to warn, there will be more rocky days but even an armchair critic knows, it is the only way to take on the BJP juggernaut.

If the opposition stays the course the inevitable question would be under whose leadership, Rahul Gandhi is not the preferred choice. But these are early days and yet, time is running out. The only way the opposition can gain from the expulsion is by playing politics with politics.