Where is Rahul Gandhi? Still eating a scrumptious meal at pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu? Of course, my questions should be directed at the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and “AS” — initials of a person found on Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats allegedly with former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta. But as a political analyst, all I can do is question in black and white, state facts and hope someone will read and take notice.
But outrage is strictly the opposition’s territory. If we are expected to outrage on their behalf, then India might as well be a single political party pseudo-democracy. Where are the acerbic questions from the opposition? And where’s the holier-than-thou television media, whose anchors were reading out to their viewers leaked chat messages from the phones of Rhea Chakrabarty, Deepika Padukone, Sushant Singh Rajput and others? Of course, Times Now is now running programmes on Arnab’s leaked WhatsApp chats but the coverage seems nothing more than a ‘payback’ for Arnab Goswami’s smug reference to AS (widely alleged to be Home Minister Amit Shah) calling Navika Kumar ‘Kachra’ (garbage).
With the latest revelations from the alleged WhatsApp chats of Arnab Goswami, which the Mumbai Police submitted in court along with its supplementary chargesheet in the TRP scam case, two possibilities emerge. Either the opposition in India is very shady itself, with too many skeletons in politicians’ closets. Or, in the prophetic words of Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, who said “Congress must die”, the Congress has died.
No challenge to Arnab
The ‘prime’ ‘national’ opposition party is evidently resting in peace – or resting in pieces – and that’s why we don’t hear any outrage from anyone with decision-making powers in the party (read the Gandhis). Of course, others in the party like Prithviraj Chavan, P. Chidambaram and Manish Tewari are speaking about “ArnabGate” but then again, how much weight do they carry within the party?
In spite of the incriminating evidence against Arnab Goswami that has been exposed in these chats — for example, allegedly having prior information about the Balakot airstrikes — hardly anyone from the opposition parties has so much as even spoken about Arnab Goswami or questioned how he seemingly had military intelligence.
This is in stark contrast to the BJP when it was in opposition during the audio leaks of telephone conversations between former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, politicians and journalists in 2009. The BJP ensured that in every political rally and throughout its campaign in the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha election, the alleged 2G scam was mentioned. It was the media conversation around the 2G scam allegations as well as the opposition’s continuous pressure that led to the arrests of DMK chief Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and former telecom minister A. Raja in 2011. And Arnab Goswami was at the heart of raising the heat on that story back then. All the accused were acquitted in 2017.
Since then, Arnab Goswami has obsessively hounded the Gandhis in his shows on Republic TV and Republic Bharat. He has left nothing to civility in insulting Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Robert Vadra and Priyanka Gandhi. And now, at his most vulnerable, exposed time, he is being allowed by the opposition to lie low, stay quiet and avoid questions on the incriminating chats.
While the Gandhis are choosing to take the high road and not ‘attack’ Arnab Goswami, the latter is not reciprocating the courtesy. A press release issued by the Republic Media Network — in response to a statement put out by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Arnab’s leaked chats – said the company was urging the Congress party “to stop working in tandem with the Government of Pakistan, consciously or unconsciously”. Obviously, Arnab is under the false impression that he represents the whole of India, which is why anyone pointing out his irresponsible chatter on military intelligence is, accoridng to him, ‘anti-India’. This delusion requires an eyeroll that lasts for an eternity.
The ‘Mahatma’ syndrome
In a parallel world, today’s Gandhis could be passed off as ‘Mahatma’ for being so non-vengeful. But it’s 2021. There’s a Ram Mandir being constructed and one of India’s top actors is asking people to donate money for it. We’ve gone through a pandemic and are rolling out vaccines that have not gone through all phases of clinical trials and we’ve almost had a war with China. Time to be a Mahatma has long gone. Michelle Obama’s ‘go high’ doesn’t quite win elections in Modi’s India.
But the Congress’s Buddha-like silence seems habitual. It is no surprise that the Congress ecosystem is riddled with lethargy. Its leaders always seem to miss striking the iron while it’s hot. When the farmer protests began to heat up, the Congress leadership was nowhere in news — and certainly not on the streets. It is only at their own time and leisure that they choose to show up – like Priyanka and Rahul did last week outside Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal’s official residence, “fighting” for the repeal of farm bills. Where were they for the last 50 days when farmers from various parts of the country were trying to reach Delhi to join other protesters but were stopped by the police at the borders? Those who did come out, such as party leaders in Haryana, received no attention or support.
Few days back he returned the Prestigious Rajeev Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in Solidarity .
Today He is Serving langar with us !
He is the one who deserves immense respect !
— Bhupender Chaudhary ਭੁਪਿੰਦਰ ਚੌਧਰੀ (@bhupenderc19) December 18, 2020
The opposition’s problem
The obvious problem with the Congress is its dependence on the Gandhis to do anything and everything. Many in the Congress work to just move up the ladder within the party organisation and therefore remain politically irrelevant, while those who actually want to be politically relevant are made irrelevant within the party. This leads to everyone maintaining a stoic silence because speaking up would only lead to trouble.
There are two kinds of Congress leaders — one who is either trying to overshadow the Gandhis and another who is sucking up to them. Compare this to the BJP, which rewards anyone who contributes even a tiny bit to the party and its propaganda machinery. It’s no surprise that PM Modi follows some of the most vicious trolls and fake news peddlers on social media. All to extend his support and validate their efforts.
The media too has remained obviously quiet because in most likelihood, if one was to scratch the encrypted surface of chat messages, a lot of journalists will be unmasked as brokers trying to do “business” through their connections in the PMO, instead of journalism.
But the opposition’s silence is what allows everyone to play to their gallery. Because, sab changa si.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.