In a recent book of interviews called “India Tomorrow,” Rahul Gandhi tells interviewers Harsh Shah and Pradeep Chhibber, “What India is soon going to realise is that the democratic process has been subverted, that now it is not one party against another, but the opposition parties against the power of the Indian state.”
Rahul Gandhi explains the Congress party’s electoral failures, especially in the 2019 election, by pointing out how it is no longer a level playing field.
The ruling BJP, he says, has captured media, election financing, and all state institutions. He seems to suggest the tide will turn only when the people rise up against this capture — and he’s in the game for the long haul to see that day.
In August last year, senior Congress leader and veteran lawyer P Chidambaram was arrested on corruption charges, released after over 100 days in jail. Another leader in the south, the formidable DK Shivakumar was jailed. This happened soon after the Modi government changed the Constitutional status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir
Many political commentators including yours truly have been critical of India’s opposition leaders and parties, starting with Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, of doing precious little to take on Narendra Modi. They have been failing to discharge their duty to be the voice of the people.
Rahul Gandhi’s comment on the BJP’s capture of state institutions and their use against the democratic opposition should make us ask a question we rarely ask: are our opposition leaders going easy on Modi because they are afraid of going to jail?
In June this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a statement on border tensions with China. He said there had been no Chinese incursion into Indian territory in an incident in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives. As the statement politically backfired on Modi, central agencies immediately started raiding and questioning top Congress leader Ahmed Patel on alleged corruption charges.
These tax raids against opposition leaders have become a routine matter, especially before any election. Since Modi’s re-election in 2019, he has shown the willingness to put democratic opposition leaders in jail, and somehow courts don’t seem very eager to follow the principle of ‘bail not jail’ in such cases.
Punishment built into the process
Nobody will of course ever be convicted, but the punishment is built into the process. Investigation agencies seek custody for days and weeks for questioning when there is no flight risk and the accused is cooperating with the questioning.
In August last year, senior Congress leader and veteran lawyer P Chidambaram was arrested on corruption charges, released after over 100 days in jail. Another leader in the south, the formidable DK Shivakumar was jailed.
This happened soon after the Modi government changed the Constitutional status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. In that troubled state, ex-chief ministers along with hundreds of mainstream politicians were put in jail or under house arrest. Some are yet to be returned their liberty.
The impact of such brazen persecution and vendetta politics against democratic opposition leaders is seen on the rest of the opposition. Political analysts criticise Priyanka Gandhi for doing very little to actually revive the party in Uttar Pradesh. In the last few months she has spent more time in her house in the hills near Shimla than in UP.
Rahul Gandhi’s idea of expressing solidarity with migrant labour stranded by an ill-planned Covid lockdown was to do one documentary-style interview for social media.
When we look at such poor resistance from the Congress, we don’t think of the anxieties the family might be facing at the though of having to spend nights in jail. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are on bail in a National Herald case, while Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra has corruption cases against him.
Whether these cases are legitimate or not is not the point here. The point is the fear psychosis it creates to think the government can decide any morning to put you in jail.
And when would the government do that? It would do so when opposition leaders actually become threatening. When they look like they could bring Modi down, win elections.
In Bihar, opposition leader Tejaswi Yadav began with the promise of changing the nature of his party and of Bihar politics. Instead of exploiting these opportunities, he often spends weeks outside Bihar, often in Delhi.
Critics accuse him of being lazy, flippant about politics, entitled. But we never wonder: what if he is afraid of going to jail like his father? Tejaswi and his family members are accused of corruption in multiple cases.
Similarly, when we wonder why Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal have completely surrendered before Narendra Modi, or why Akhilesh Yadav doesn’t do any agitations and campaigns, we don’t think about the fear of jail. There’s Indian style toilets and no air conditioning, apart from the loss of freedom.
That’s why, like Rahul Gandhi, almost the entire opposition wants to wait it out. The good old days will be back in a decade or two.