New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi reached Parliament Monday on a tractor to protest against the three contentious farm laws that the Narendra Modi government passed last year.
Gandhi was seen entering the Parliament complex through Vijay Chowk along with Congress MPs Pratap Singh Bajwa, Ravneet Singh Bittu and Deepender Singh Hooda, who also carried banners and raised slogans.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed it “theatrics”, this isn’t the first time an MP has chosen a unique way to commute to Parliament to protest against an issue.
Bullock cart, tractor, bicycle and even a Harley Davidson
In November 1973, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister, then Jana Sangh president Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bullock cart to Parliament to protest rising petrol and kerosene prices.
Nearly three decades later, Congress leader Renuka Chaudhary arrived in the Parliament complex on a tractor to highlight the plight of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. However, the police stopped her as the vehicle was unauthorised to enter.
When the issue was discussed in the House later, then prime minister Chandra Shekhar said: “How can the House seriously discuss such an issue? Tomorrow someone may want to come to Parliament in a tank. Will that be allowed?”. To this, Chaudhary cited the example of Vajpayee.
But these symbolic protests — or attempts to deliver a statement — haven’t been limited to bullock carts and tractors. MPs have also bicycles and even a Harley Davidson once.
In March 2016, Bihar Congress MP Ranjeet Ranjan rode to Parliament on a Harley Davidson bike to make a statement on the International Women’s Day. Wearing a helmet and sunglasses, she rode around the Parliament complex before entering the House.
Even BJP leaders have been seen riding bicycles to Parliament to make statements.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture Arjun Ram Meghwal used a bicycle to reach the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2016, when he was inducted as minister in the Modi government. He has often been seen pedalling to Parliament.
New Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and former BJP Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari have also been seen riding bicycles to Parliament.
This year’s Monsoon Session began with protests on the very first day (19 July) when six Trinamool Congress MPs arrived in the Parliament complex riding bicycles to protest against the high fuel prices. The six MPs — Derek O’Brien, Arpita Ghosh, Kalyan Banerjee, Santanu Sen, Nadimul Haque, and Abir Ranjan Biswas — also raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at one of the entrances to the House.
Fancy dress, black gowns used too
To demand special status for Andhra Pradesh, late Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Naramalli Sivaprasad often used to dress in quirky attires to attend Parliament sessions in the previous decade. Some of his avatars included Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Sathya Sai Baba and Adolf Hitler. He also dressed up as a schoolboy once, and a dacoit another time.
Back in 2014, TMC and Samajwadi Party MPs protested against black money using black umbrellas on the first working day of the Winter Session.
In February this year, Congress MPs Jasbir Singh Gill and Gurjeet Singh Aujla came to Parliament wearing black gowns to protest against the three farm laws.
Experts call these photo-ops
Political analyst and author Rasheed Kidwai called these acts “political optics”.
“Rahul Gandhi driving the tractor is giving a signal to the farm community that the Congress and Gandhis are with them. Political parties in India have a tendency to play different roles while in opposition or in government. Both Congress and BJP have perfected this art of taking extreme positions and changing track with ease,” he said.
Sanjay Kumar, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and co-director of CSDS’s research programme Lokniti, said these events are usually a photo-op. “Beyond that, I don’t think one single issue is in any way helpful in mobilising the voters, unless and until there is a concentrated effort by any leader on any issue,” he said.
“It’s alright for the political leaders to indulge in these because these are symbolic, and one tries to attract the attention of the common man on a particular issue, whether it is Rahul Gandhi going to Parliament on a tractor or Atal Bihari Vajpayee coming on a bullock cart,” Kumar added.
“But merely engaging in this act does not mean the voters will get impressed by you. The BJP at the moment is criticising Rahul Gandhi but every political leader is entitled to do such symbolic protests,” he said.
Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev said it is a way of showing solidarity and highlighting the issue.
“Even though farmers said don’t politicise it, the issue of the three farm laws has become such a big one that it is impacting the nation. So any tall leader will try to highlight it and show support to the farmers. Rahul Gandhi has done just that,” she said, adding that such acts are to highlight the issue and keep it alive.